There’s a chance you’ll see the Northern Lights tonight

There’s a chance you’ll see the Northern Lights tonight (Sept. 18-19)
There’s a chance you’ll see the Northern Lights tonight (Sept. 18-19)(WTVG)
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 9:32 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - There is a chance that the northern lights will develop Monday night into early Tuesday morning in the Great Lakes region.

*What We Know*

So for those away from city lights (very important), night sky viewing will be optimal for most of the region. Along with that, there was a huge magnetic filament eruption on the sun on Saturday and it was directed towards earth. This set up typically produces a geomagnetic storm on earth that has the power to bring the northern lights into the Great Lakes region **IF** it times out right.

*What We Don’t Know*

While the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) says there is more than a 90% chance that a geomagnetic storm will occur, it is more uncertain when the storm would begin. There is always high uncertainty on the timing of these geomagnetic storms. It is common for the actual timing to vary by 12 hours sooner or later than the forecast. To make matters worse in this scenario, the two computer models don’t agree. The SWPC has a model that shows the storm and aurora chances could begin before midnight. NASA has a computer model that suggests it would be daylight before the storm arrives. If the second scenario happens, than the northern lights would favor northern Russia and northern Europe instead of the Great Lakes region. The official forecast shows the best aurora chances would be late tonight (after midnight), but again uncertainty is high. This is why even though there is a 90%+ chance that earth gets this geomagnetic storm, it may or may not give us an aurora chance.

There is often criticism when I put these aurora forecasts out that I am hyping the chance up, or I “should wait until we know for sure” that the northern lights will happen before saying anything. The northern lights is a different beast. If we wait until we are sure it will be visible, odds are that the opportunity has already passed. We want to make sure you are aware of what could happen before it does. At the same time, the aurora always brings high uncertainty so that is why we try to put everything in context. If you ever see a post about the northern lights happening for sure at this latitude, that is often a clue that the person behind the keyboard doesn’t understand how space weather works and our human limitations of forecasting it. Regardless of what happens tonight, these aurora chances are going to increase in number over the next few years as we near solar maximum.

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