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Strong Solar Flare Could Bring Northern Lights to Washington, Oregon Coast

Published 10/28/21 at 6:36 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Strong Solar Flare Could Bring Northern Lights to Washington, Oregon Coast

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(Portland, Oregon) – [SEE THE UPDATES: Chances for Northern Lights Rise Along Washington, Oregon Coast 45% chance for Sat and Sun, but clouds come in Sunday ] Scientists from the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) said the strongest solar flare in recent years just erupted from the sun early on Thursday, classified as an X1-class flare – the most powerful of them all. The result could be some spectacular sightings of the aurora borealis along the upper parts of the Washington coast and possibly even well down into the Oregon coast on Friday and Saturday. (Above: Thursday's flare caught by NASA)

With clear skies forecast on most of the Oregon coast and all of the Washington coast on those nights, a showing of the northern lights could be a memorable one. However, the southern Oregon coast will remain murky and cloudy on those nights, from about Reedsport southward into Brookings.

The flare, which is believed to have also created a coronal mass ejection (CME), was enough to disrupt communications in the southern hemisphere earlier today. It peaked about 7:30 a.m. west coast time.

However, predicting any aurora is still too early, according to Jim Todd, astronomer with Portland's OMSI.

“As of now, predictions are not out yet for possible aurora activities,” Todd told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “When will the CME itself arrive? Assuming that it is Earth directed, probably on Oct. 30th or 31st. Fresh data from SOHO coronagraphs will allow a more precise forecast, so stay tuned.”

The flare caused a sizable radio blackout early Thursday in South America, which was sunlit at the time and facing the sun's best and worst impacts. It did not last long, according to NASA. said if the northern lights do occur here, and the Earth is in the path of the electromagnetic storm, it could seriously disrupt satellite communications for a time.

Graphic showing the radio interference in South America earlier in the day (courtesy NASA)

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Solar flares are essentially massive eruptions from the surface of the sun, where radiation sends out charged particles into space. If the Earth is in that path, the result can be plenty of northern lights into latitudes well below the Arctic Circle. Flares are classified in a letter system. X-class are the strongest, M-class are lesser so and relatively in the middle, and the C-class storms are the weakest.

Aurora Borealis in the Coast Range

"An X2 is twice as intense as an X1, an X3 is three times as intense, etc.,” said NASA. “Flares that are classified X10 or stronger are considered unusually intense."

This particular flare came from a sunspot designated AR2887, which is facing the Earth in general. It reportedly caused two other flares in the medium range the same day before the big one.

Washington State is generally in a much better position to witness northern lights during such events, and that definitely includes the coastline.

Pay attention to the latest regional weather forecasts in your area to find updates on aurora borealis predictions, or If you intend to head out to photograph the phenomenon, keep in mind you may not be able to see it with the naked eye. Often, you'll need a camera with a tripod and long exposure times, then you'll need to check the camera afterwards for any “curtains of light” that may be there.

The photos above and below were taken by Oregon Coast Beach Connection in the Coast Range and these sights were not visible, except by the camera.

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