Aurora Borealis in Oregon? Psyche! The Mix-Up Explained

northern lights

You remember how we chatted about the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights here in Oregon this week? Well, we messed up and need to set things straight. Despite what was buzzing around, according to Jim Todd, the OMSI Director of Science Education, we're not going to catch the aurora borealis light show in Portland or anywhere else in Oregon this week.

The buzz started with a bunch of articles from big guns like the Oregonian, Associated Press, and even NBC and CBS News. They got everyone excited that a hefty solar storm would give 17 U.S. states, including us, a glimpse of the northern lights. The others on the lucky list were "Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Indiana, Maine, and Maryland.”

The thing is, the intel these articles were based on came from an auroral forecast by the University of Alaska at Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute. But, this forecast didn't pass the smell test with experts like Todd and the science journo squad over at EarthSky.

Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that two key elements influence whether we can see the aurora borealis: geomagnetic activity (how much the Earth's magnetic field is stirred up) and where you are.

NOAA says, “Your chances to see the aurora are mostly about two things, geomagnetic activity and your physical location. Of course, your local weather, city lights, a full moon, and other factors can mess with your view, too.”

Typically, the northern lights hang out near the north pole. But when geomagnetic activity cranks up, the aurora's playground can stretch to lower-latitude areas usually out of the viewing scope like Portland. In some rare instances of super strong geomagnetic activity, the aurora can even reach as far down as the American South.

So, while the northern lights are giving Portland a pass this week, Todd assured KOIN that we're likely to see the spectacle again in the coming years. He said, “As the sun keeps getting bigger, we're bound to get a display within the next few years. Like all of you, I can't wait to enjoy the show from Oregon. It's all about the right timing and power of the storms.”

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Tyler James, founder of That Oregon Life, is a true Oregon native whose love for his state runs deep. Since the inception of the blog in 2013, his unbridled passion for outdoor adventures and the natural beauty of Oregon has been the cornerstone of his work. As a father to two beautiful children, Tyler is always in pursuit of new experiences to enrich his family’s life. He curates content that not only reflects his adventures but also encourages others to set out and create precious memories in the majestic landscapes of Oregon. Tyler's vision and guidance are integral to his role as publisher and editor, shaping the blog into a source of inspiration for exploring the wonders of Oregon.