(NEXSTAR) — Northern U.S. states from New York to Washington and potentially into Iowa may be able to see the northern lights Sunday, current forecasts show.
In an alert issued Sunday morning, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center warned of a moderate geomagnetic storm, sparked by an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection, or CME.
CMEs are explosions of plasma and magnetic material from the sun that can impact navigation, communication and radio signals on Earth. They’re also able to cause auroras by creating currents in Earth’s magnetic fields that send particles to the North and South Poles, which then interact with oxygen and nitrogen, according to NASA.
The current Earth-directed CME was sparked by a filament eruption on Friday, the SWPC says. It is expected to impact us late Sunday, causing G1-level geomagnetic storms (the lowest level on the five-point scale). G2 storms are likely for Monday.
The SWPC’s current forecast shows Canada and Alaska, blanketed in red in the image below, have the greatest likelihood of seeing the northern lights on Sunday. NOAA predicts the southern extent of the auroras — depicted by the red line on the image below — could reach as far south as northern Nebraska and central Iowa.
That means residents in Washington, northern Idaho, Montana, northern Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Illinois, Michigan, parts of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine may also have the chance to see the aurora.
While the SWPC is expecting stronger geomagnetic storms for Monday, the forecast isn’t as promising. Alaska and Canada still have a chance to see the northern lights, but the opportunity is slim for those in northern Montana, North Dakota, northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
However, the SWPC reported Friday that in addition to the Earth-directed CME, a coronal hole high speed stream, or CH HSS, was spotted on the sun. Like CMEs, a CH HSS can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth reaching G1 or G2 levels — which could, in turn, spark more northern lights.
That CH HSS “will likely affect Earth” between Wednesday and Friday, the SWPC said. Aurora forecasts for those days won’t be available until at least Tuesday (the SWPC only shares forecasts for the current day and the next).
We may see even more of the northern lights in the coming months.
The sun is reaching the peak of Solar Cycle 25, an 11-year period in which the sun flips its magnetic poles, sparking space weather like CMEs and CH HSSs. New forecasts show it could come quicker and be stronger than previously thought from January to October next year.
That could not only mean more northern lights occurrences — with possibly more opportunities for those in the southern U.S. to see them — but impacts on our infrastructure.
An added bonus of the current solar cycle? The April 8, 2024, total solar eclipse will occur near cycle maximum, meaning a good show for skywatchers, NOAA explains.