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Unusually Heavy Solar Storm Good for Aurora Along Washington Coast, Possibly Oregon

Published 5/10/24 at 6:15 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Westport, Washington) – The farther north you go, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights tonight and Saturday greatly improve, but Washington's coastline and quite possibly Oregon's coast should see a good glow in the skies. (Photo Spokane, courtesy Spokane office of National Weather Service, taken last year)

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Experts are saying the chances seem to be improving in this area, although for Oregon it may well mean you won't see it with the naked eye. Those with the right photographic skills and equipment have a much better chance.

“The forecast continues to depict a chance to view the aurora across all of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington, generally improving with northward extent,” said the National Weather Service (NWS) in Portland. “The best place to view the aurora will be a darker location away from the city lights, with a clear view of the northern sky.”

Coverage maps of the solar activity show the upper half of Washington in the thick of it. However, cloud cover is increasing in those coastal areas. Forecasts are clear for inland areas, so those from Seattle or Tacoma have the odds stacked in their favor.

On the Oregon coast and most of Oregon, skies are looking quite clear.

Already, the southern hemisphere got an extraordinary show today from what is an unusually strong solar storm, which came from some super-sized coronal mass ejections (CME) on the sun. More: Huge Sunspot / CME's May Bring Northern Lights to Washington, Oregon Coastlines

Jim Todd, astronomy expert from Portland's OMSI, said things are “looking up” for the region.

“Predictions indicates KP index will be near 8 for Friday and Saturday,” Todd told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “This means moderate chance of aurora sightings for Oregon and Washington (Kp index of 6 or higher). Keep in mind, the strongest levels could be during the day, so timing and strength determines the night time visibility.”

Todd said your best bets for those living in Oregon (Portland, Salem, Eugene, Newport, Bandon, Seaside, etc) are to take a digital camera that is a DSLR or advanced smartphone, mount it on a tripod, and then snap 3 to 5 seconds exposures looking northward. Those in bigger cities must get out into darker skies.

“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. Move away from city lights and find clear northern horizon to improve your chances to see the northern lights.”

The super-charged particles from the sun are among the highest in years, and it's possible some parts of the world may experience electrical difficulties.

Also see Space Station Will Put On A Show in May Above Oregon, Washington, Coastlines - ISS is going to have some pretty decent flyovers

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) said the first of the six CMEs hurled at Earth are coming from giant sunspot called AR3664. They are just now starting to hit our planet (May 10), and they've been an outstanding show with the aurora borealis.

“The number of CMEs heading for Earth keeps increasing,” Todd said. “The total is now six following this morning's X3.9-class flare from giant sunspot AR3664. According to a NOAA forecast model, the first three CMEs could merge to form a 'Cannibal CME.' Cannibal CMEs form when fast-moving CMEs overtake and gobble up slower CMEs in front of them. Internal shock waves created by such CME collisions do a good job sparking geomagnetic storms when they strike Earth's magnetic field.”

Where to go for Northern Lights?

If you're in Eugene, Salem, Corvallis, Portland or Vancouver, get a ways out of town.

Suggestions for the Coast: hit higher vantage points that have a clear shot downwards to the north, like Anderson's Viewpoint near Oceanside, Bandon's Face Rock Viewpoint, Cape Blanco (Port Orford), the gravel pullout just north of Neahkahnie (Manzanita) or the high pullout just south of Yachats. On the Washington coast, the majority is flat, so hit just about any beach that is clear to the north will work. MORE AURORA PHOTOS BELOW

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Photos Oregon Coast Beach Connection

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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