People in Alabama could see northern lights tonight thanks to severe solar storm

People are more likely to see the lights out of cities and in areas with clear skies

Michelle Del Rey
Friday 10 May 2024 16:52 BST
Where to see the aurora borealis

The aurora borealis could be visible throughout much of the northern US and as far south as Alabama on Friday due to a severe storm making its way across the country.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center announced the “rare” development on Thursday. It’s the first geomagnetic watch the agency has announced since 2005.

The northern lights are caused by magnetic storms that have been triggered by solar activity. Several strong flares have been observed over the last few days and were associated with a large and magnetically complex sunspot structure, which is 16 times the diameter of earth.

Only three severe geomagnetic storms have been observed during the current solar cycle, which started in 2019.

The agency has listed the current storm a G4, the second-highest level for severe weather events.

The agency said at least five earth-directed coronal mass ejections were spotted and are expected to arrive around noon on Friday and will continue into Sunday.

Aurora forecast for 10-11 May 2024, from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center
Aurora forecast for 10-11 May 2024, from NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (NOAA)

“This is an unusual event,” the agency said in a news release.

However, while storm watchers may be eager to catch a glimpse of the lights from the US, people should note that such storms could result in blackouts. One similar storm resulted in power outages in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

The agency said that the chances of seeing the lights will be highest in northern US, Canada and northern Europe but could be seen as far west as California. The chances of seeing the lights are higher in areas away from city lights. Clear skies are more likely on Friday over the central states and west coast.

Much of the northeast is currently experiencing cloudy skies.

The general public are encouraged to visit NOAA’s website for additional information about the phenomenon.

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