Before you head into the wilderness, be sure to check the latest Northern Lights Forecast Alaska information. We share links for the best aurora forecast tools for Alaska, and explain how to use them.
Alaska is one of the most popular destinations in the world for viewing the Northern lights. Thanks to its location will within the auroral oval, visitors to the state are more likely to capture a glimpse of the elusive lights, than in any other place. However, to increase your odds of seeing the aurora borealis in Alaska it’s important to make use of forecasting tools, which take the guesswork out of interpreting the ever-changing scientific data.
In this article, we share the best northern lights Alaska forecast tools including websites and apps to use, and explain how to read the aurora forecasting data to give you the best chance of viewing the lights.
Tools for Northern Lights Forecast Alaska
The three tools listed here are easily the best and most reliable websites and apps for northern lights forecast Alaska information. To make the most of them, however, you will also need to understand how to read the data – which we explain in the next section.
Aurora Forecast by NOAA (Website)
Official Website: https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is one of the most trusted sources for data relating to the appearances of the Northern Lights. Over the years, the NOAA Auroral Forecast has grown to become one of the most accurate forecasting services in the world, thanks to its use of real-time data streams from multiple observation satellites, ground-based observatories, and geomagnetic monitoring.
Naturally, since NOAA provides the most accurate forecasts, it would follow that their data is also the most reliable. For more than 50 years, NOAA has been trusted by millions of Americans to protect them from natural disasters through the development of early warning systems, the same type of systems that form an integral part of their forecasting tool.
Ease of Use
The NOAA Aurora Forecast website features a user-friendly design, that is easy to navigate and even easier to understand. In fact, virtually every mobile application on the market today gets its forecasting data from the website.
Aurora Forecast by Space Weather Live (Website)
Official Website: https://www.spaceweatherlive.com
The Space Weather Live website provides accurate and dependable northern lights forecasts for the rest of the world, using data that is collected from both the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the European Space Agency.
Thanks to the combination of data sources, Space Weather Live is able to enhance the reliability of their regular northern lights forecasts.
Ease of Use
You will find that the Space Weather Live website provides a very straightforward interface, that is complete with a wide array of charts and explanations that make it easier for just about anyone to understand.
Aurora Forecast by Aurora Alerts (App)
Official Website: https://aurora-alerts.com/
In order to provide you with an accurate aurora forecast, Aurora Alerts uses data retrieved from both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska.
Since Fairbanks is one of the most popular destinations for viewing the elusive lights, the University of Alaska Fairbanks has grown to become one of the most reliable sources of experts and auroral research.
Ease of Use
You will find that the Aurora Alerts mobile application is extremely user-friendly and provides you with real-time alerts and forecasts for various locations throughout the state, as well as the world.
How to Interpret Northern Lights Alaska Forecast Data
Understanding the KP Index
LOOK FOR… Moderate-High KP Index (KP 5-9).
The KP index provides Aurora hunters with a numerical scale that can quantify the geomagnetic activity surrounding the planet. The higher the KP number, the more likely it will be to view the elusive lights.
KP 0-2: Very Low
When the KP index is relatively low, meaning it is between 0 and 2, it will be highly unlikely to view the elusive lights, even in higher latitude regions in Alaska.
KP 3-4: Low
Once the KP index rises to 3 or 4, the geomagnetic activity of the planet, although low, is significant enough to view the northern lights in the northernmost regions of the state.
KP 5-6: Moderate
Once the KP index reaches the range of 5 to 6, the geomagnetic activity is high enough that the northern lights can be visible at lower latitudes, so long as the skies are clear and dark.
KP 7-9: High
The best time for viewing the elusive lights is when the KP index reaches the range of 7 to 9, which generally occurs during the peak of the solar cycle. When the KP index is high enough, the aurora borealis can be visible as far south as Kentucky or Tennessee.
Solar Wind Speeds and Direction
The speed and direction of the solar wind also play an integral role in forecasting the appearance of the aurora borealis. As discussed in our scientific explanation of the aurora borealis, the phenomenon is referred to as wind because it flows through the solar system much like the wind flows through a city. The wind itself is filled with charged particles that are ejected by the sun and can trigger extensive geomagnetic storms as they pass over and around the Earth’s magnetic field.
LOOK FOR… Speed above 400km/s.
Speed is important to creating a larger geomagnetic disturbance. And when it comes to the solar winds, Aurora hunters should be looking for speeds well above 400 km/s, which is just under 895,000 mph.
LOOK FOR… Wind blowing towards South.
While the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetic field is crucial to the appearance of the elusive lights, so too is the direction of the wind itself in relation to the Earth’s field. When the wind is pointing southward, it is more likely to create a geomagnetic storm, and subsequently the northern lights.
When speaking about geomagnetic activity, we are encompassing several different measurements directly related to the Earth’s magnetic field. However, when it comes to the Alaska northern lights forecast, there is really only one measurement we need to know.
LOOK FOR… Increasingly negative Bz number.
The BZ component is a representation of the direction and flow of the Earth’s magnetic field. When the component becomes more negative, it means that the field is moving southward, and as such, it can increase the likelihood of viewing the aurora borealis.
Northern Lights Forecast Alaska Maps (Aurora Maps)
There are a number of excellent forecasting tools available on the Internet and for your mobile devices. All of these tools use a forecast map, that provides a graphical representation of the expected intensity and potential location of northern lights’ appearances. The aurora borealis maps themselves are generally color-coded, to indicate a percentage of likelihood.
Since all tools are different, it is important to take the time to look at the legend, in order to understand what each color on the map represents. In general, the color green indicates a really low possibility of capturing a glimpse of the elusive lights, while reds and purples indicate the highest probabilities.
You will also want to pay close attention to the geographical regions represented in the maps. Certain tools and maps are specifically designed for use within specific geographical regions and therefore are not as accurate beyond the edges of that region. Take the time to find a map or tool that is specifically designed to cover Alaska.
The tools listed in the previous section will allow you to view northern lights forecast Alaska mapping specifically, to determine the best region and time to view the aurora in the state.
More and more maps and tools have begun to also integrate a time forecast. Using aurora borealis forecast data from NOAA and the University of Alaska, they are able to roughly determine which hours the visibility of the northern lights will be at their peak.
Additional Tips for Reading Northern Lights Forecast Alaska
Local Weather Conditions
Keep in mind that although the local weather conditions play no actual role in the appearance of the northern lights, they do play an integral part in your ability to view them from the surface of the planet.
You will want to know more about the chances of cloud coverage in your viewing area, and available viewing times. With the help of a good weather forecasting tool, you can make a more accurate decision on where and when to wait for the auroras to appear.
Keep in mind, that the best time of year to view the elusive lights, is in the middle of the winter. While it is important to always dress as warmly as possible, pay close attention to the local weather conditions as temperatures in some parts of Alaska, can get so cold that the wind will cut through even the thickest winter garb.
Real-Time Data and Alerts
You may also want to make use of a tool that provides you with real-time data alerts. These alerts will send you a push notification in the event that the auroras are spotted by an actual northern lights Hunter, out in the field.
Make sure to configure the alerts by selecting your desired KP index, or the level of geomagnetic activity you want to be notified of. This way you can rest assured that the notifications will align with your particular preferences.
Solar Storms and CMEs
Our sun follows a cycle wherein every 7 years, the activity on the surface of the sun increases, peaking out, before decreasing once again. During the peak of this solar cycle, Coronal Mass Ejections, or CMEs, are more likely to occur. These ejections are bursts of particles from the surface of the sun, that are carried with the solar wind and impact with the earth. These solar storms and Coronal Mass Ejections play a significant role in the formation of the aurora borealis.
For more information on the solar cycle peak years, and when the best years are predicted, check out our article on the best years to view aurora borealis.
Final Thoughts on Northern Lights Forecast Alaska
To maximize your chances of seeing the aurora borealis, it is essential to learn how to access and read northern lights forecast Alaska data. Doing so will allow you to target a specific location at the right time, rather than taking a blind and hopeful stab in the dark. It can also save you a night of searching, if the conditions are not right.
The best way of doing this is to use specially designed aurora borealis forecast tools. To summarize, the best tools for northern lights forecast Alaska data are:
- Aurora Forecast by NOAA (website)
- Aurora Forecast by Space Weather Luve (website)
- Aurora Forecast by Aurora Alerts (App)
While there are also other aurora forecast apps and websites, we’ve found these three to be the best for Alaska specifically.
Importantly, before you plan your trip, make sure you choose the right time of year to travel. As a general rule of thumb, the aurora borealis in Alaska is visible in the cooler months, from September to March.
To learn more about Alaska northern lights trip planning, be sure to check out our articles on the best places to see the northern lights in Alaska and the best time of year to see the aurora in Alaska. And for more travel tips, be sure to check out the full list of Northern Lights Alaska articles on this website.
Happy aurora hunting!
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