The Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis
A North Dakota Perspective

By Lyndon Anderson

Northern Lights Forecasts

How do you know if the northern lights are going to be out on a particular night? For years, I didn't have a clue, and I didn't live in the country where I could get up at night on occasion to look out the window and see if there was a display.

The above photograph was taken on March 18, 2002.

Now, any of us can quickly reference a number of web sites and have a better idea if the northern lights could be seen on a particular night.

If there is potential for a major show, there will be a short news story on the front page of that web site. 

Pay attention to the solar wind speed, the southward component (Bz) and the total density (Bt). These numbers are posted on the front page of the web site, and links are included that provide an explanation of the numbers, and that provide more data.

The chances of seeing the northern lights increases in North Dakota if wind speeds increase to 400 kilometers per second or higher, the Bz is at a negative period for an hour or longer, and if the Bt is at 10 or above for an hour or longer.

One of the best features of the site is that following displays, people often e-mail comments on the show and their favorite photographs, which are then posted in photo galleries. Note that if you do searches on Twitter during a time of increased activity, you will often see a lot of photos posted in real time.

By clicking a lot of links starting at the front page, you can get to daily forecasts at This page features a forecast that is posted every late afternoon at 5:10 p.m. during daylight savings time, and at 4:10 during the remainder of the year.

They also offer a subscription service to alert you to any activity. It is available through spaceweather alerts.

The above photograph was taken on September 30, 2002.


I would not recommend relying on the news media to let you know when the northern lights can be seen (I've seen too many guarantees of a display with nothing happening). I have found that my best resources are those mentioned above.

And finally, do a lot of research. There's a lot more information available than what I have posted above that will help in you in your search for the northern lights.

Page 1 - Overview of Information in Online Brochure
Page 2 - An Aurora Chasing Story
Page 3 - Beauty of the Northern Lights
Page 4 - Science of the Northern Lights / Resources
Page 5 - The Northern Lights in North Dakota
This is Page 6 - Northern Lights Forecasts
Page 7 - Putting it all Together
Page 8 - Photographing the Northern Lights
Page 9 - Okay, So You Have Photographs, Now What?

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