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Chances for Northern Lights Rise Along Washington, Oregon Coast

Published 10/29/21 at 5:46 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Chances for Northern Lights Rise Along Washington, Oregon Coast

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(Seaside, Oregon) – A Geomagnetic Storm Watch is in effect for much of the planet for October 30 – 31, after a significant flare and Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) occurred on the sun yesterday in the early morning.

Translation: there are some decent chances to see the Aurora Borealis as far south as northern California. With mostly clear skies over the next two nights on the Oregon and Washington coast, those areas will be in prime position to spot the northern lights. However, Sunday looks to be cloudy in the region, so a Halloween Aurora Borealis sighting will be unlikely on the beaches.

Scientists say it is the strongest solar flare that was shot out of the sun during this recent cycle of sun activity.

The sheer power of this storm of ions bodes well for not just seeing it on the Oregon coast and Washington coast, but maybe spotting it with the naked eye and without the aid of cameras.

“Analysis indicated the CME departed the Sun at a speed of 973 km/s and is forecast to arrive at Earth on 30 October, with effects likely continuing into 31 October,” said the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA).

The one area that won't get to see this is the southern Oregon coast, where the forecast is for cloudy skies over the weekend evenings.

Jim Todd, astronomy expert with Portland's OMSI, is excited about the possibilities of three nights worth of ionic display.

“Looking at the predictions, chance of seeing the Northern Lights for Oregon (mid latitude) indicates 5% for Friday, Oct 29; 45% for Saturday, Oct 30; 40% for Sunday, Oct 31,” Todd said. “Weather forecast for the Willamette Valley is favorable with partly cloudy skies during the night. The waning crescent moon will be a nonfactor. Checking the predictions before heading out.”

Todd said it's important to get away from city lights if you're going to look for this, which makes the northwest coastlines excellent places to look.

See Oregon Coast Weather - Washington Coast Weather

Oregon Coast Beach Connection recommends heading to high vantage points with no major blockage to the north. Look for the high gravel pullout just south of Yachats, Cape Foulweather near Depoe Bay, Anderson's Viewpoint just south of Cape Lookout State Park, Cape Disappointment at Ilwaco, or the viewpoints just south of Cannon Beach. The long, flat stretches of the southern Washington coast will also be prime.

“Best bet is to take a digital camera (DSLR or advance smartphones) on a tripod and take 3 to 5 seconds exposures towards the northern horizon,” Todd said. “If the picture shows some shades of green to red curtain-like images, chances are the auroras are active. Sometimes the auroras low and faint above the northern horizon, not visible to the naked eye. Auroras can last for few minutes or few hours.”

As for timing, that's a difficult one to pin down.

Graphic courtesy

“The K index near 7 indicates some active auroras are possible after sunset through sunrise,” Todd said. “Keep in mind, the strongest levels could be during the day, so timing and strength determines the night time visibility.”

This solar flare was an X-1 flare, the highest classification there is, and it created a G3-class solar storm – also the highest classification.

The sun's heavy solar flare cycle is still approaching its peak, which it will reach in 2024, Todd said.

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