Northern lights grace Western Washington skies

May 10, 2024, 11:24 AM | Updated: May 11, 2024, 3:17 pm

Mother Nature gave North America a special treat Friday night and early Saturday morning. For those who were in the right spot at the right time, you saw the northern lights in Western Washington.

To see the aurora borealis, it’s best to go north — but meteorologists said if the solar flare storm is strong enough, areas south of Seattle could see it too.

“So if this is one of your hobbies this is the night to do it because it’s a big one,” KIRO 7 Meteorologist Nick Allard said.

According to forecasts from the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the aurora was estimated to happen overnight, from 10 p.m. Friday to 2 a.m. Saturday.

However, the best visibility happens away from light pollution and on clear nights. To see how light-polluted your area is, visit ClearDarkSky’s light pollution map.

The phenomenon comes after NOAA issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning when a solar outburst reached Earth on Friday afternoon, hours sooner than anticipated. The effects of the Northern Lights, were due to last through the weekend and possibly into next week.

Why were the northern lights so clear here?

The spectacular event occurred because of a series of strong coronal mass ejections from the sun. NOAA said it hasn’t seen a solar storm like this since 2005.

NOAA alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to take precautions.

“For most people here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything,” said Rob Steenburgh, a scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

The storm could produce northern lights as far south in the U.S. as Alabama and Northern California, NOAA said. But it was hard to predict and experts stressed it would not be the dramatic curtains of color normally associated with the northern lights, but more like splashes of greenish hues.

“That’s really the gift from space weather: the aurora,” Steenburgh said. He and his colleagues said the best aurora views may come from phone cameras, which are better at capturing light than the naked eye.

Snap a picture of the sky and “there might be actually a nice little treat there for you,” said Mike Bettwy, operations chief for the prediction center.

NOAA stated that while the geomagnetic storm may impact Earth’s infrastructure, it is also what triggers the magical aurora.

“This is an unusual and potentially historic event,” Clinton Wallace, the director of NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center, said via NOAA’s website.

If you capture some spring pictures or do get to see the northern lights, please share your photos with MyNorthwest on our Share With Us page.

But if the northern lights don’t inspire you, there are plenty of other activities happening in Seattle this weekend. You can check out a list of events here.

Contributing: The Associated Press; Sam Campbell and Ted Buehner, KIRO Newsradio

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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