Weather Blog

Northern Lights peek over horizon in Eastern Washington

Northern Lights peek over horizon in Eastern Washington
Photo: Liem Bahneman

A pretty decent solar storm struck the planet Friday night, but while marine clouds thwarted any chances of viewing the Northern Lights in Western Washington, a few people in cloudless Eastern Washington had a little better luck.

Local photographer Liem Bahneman was bummed when the clouds hung over his Bothell home, but once a family member in Yakima called to say he could see them, Leim jumped in his car and drove over the Cascades to Cle Elum.

He says the lights were barely visible to the eye and faded in about an hour, but his camera was able to pick up the colorful display, which he says stretched across almost the entire northern horizon.

Plus, he had the added bonus of several minor meteor showers in progress, "so there was plenty to look at," he said.

The storm was just on the edge of being strong enough to be seen in the Pacific Northwest, but those farther north and to the east (yes, it's easier to see the Northern Lights farther south in the Midwest than long the Pacific Coast.) had a fantastic display. 

If you hear of a solar storm either on the way or in progress, one of the rule of thumbs I've used is to check the "kp" index, which is a 0-9 index of storm strength. I've found that it needs to be 7 at minimum to have any chance to see them in the Seattle area, but really we want 8 or 9 to be sure -- thus it takes a really strong storm to see them here.

And Seattle's in a bit of a double whammy in that while summer is our best chance for clear skies, it's also when the sun is up the longest, so our period of super dark conditions is relatively short -- best window to see them is midnight to 4 a.m. (Get a good show in the winter on a clear night and you can begin to see them in the evening.)

There is no particular geographic advantage when trying to chase the lights, just find a spot that is away from city lights and has a good exposure of the northern horizon. The mountains are good, Eastern Washington is better, but a rural field works too, especially north, west, or east of Seattle to keep the city's lights away.

SpaceWeather.com is an excellent source of when the Northern Lights are possible. The YouNews site.

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P.S. 1 more photo from Liem: