If you’re wondering what the finest season for Northern Lights chasing is, you’re not alone! In recent years, tourists have been flocking to see the aurora borealis in all its glory, both during the warmer months, as well as winter. But which season is better… and does it really matter at all? Let’s take a closer look all the seasons and see which one is truly the best for seeing the mystical light show.
What Season is best for Viewing Northern Lights?
Northern Lights sightings are always a treat, but which season is the best for seeing them? The most common answer to this question seems to be that the best time to see the Northern Lights is during the winter months when the skies are darkest and the sun doesn’t interfere.
However, others prefer seeing the aurora during the warmer months, when the sun sets very late and the temperatures are comfortable.
Why this disagreement about the best season? It ultimately comes down to where you are located.
As well as location, it also depends on what you’re looking for – whether you want to seriously chase a glimpse of these incredible natural phenomena, or just relax and enjoy a peaceful evening under the stars without being too bothered whether the aurora borealis appears or not.
So, we’re going to assume you’re serious about viewing those northern lights. In which case, the best season for viewing the Northern Lights are the colder months: Winter, Late-Autumn and Early Spring.
Best Season for Northern Lights viewing
- Late Autumn
- Early Spring
Wintertime is when there are the best chances of seeing the lights due to darkness. However, it is not all perfect. Weather conditions including snow clouds, which you won’t encounter in the summer months, are more likely to breeze over and block your view. Nevertheless, it is still the best season for one extremely important reason, which we talk about in the season-by-season breakdown further down.
Worst Season for Northern Lights viewing
- Early Autumn
The best season for Northern Lights is during the colder months. If you’re looking to witness the aurora borealis in summer, it’s not the best time to visit. However, the answer to this question ultimately depends on which part of the world you are in.
In most of the best aurora-viewing locations in the world, the Northern Lights are best seen during the winter months. That’s because these regions, which include Alaska and Scandinavia, experience midnight sun, whereby the sun does not set at all in summer. As you probably know already, darkness is essential to seeing the Northern Lights. With 24 hours of daylight in summer, that makes seeing the lights near-impossible.
However, in some southern regions such as certain parts of mainland United States and Europe, they can be seen throughout the summer. The problem with these regions is that they are too far south of the auroral zone to be good viewing locations, except during periods of very high solar activity and geomagnetic storms.
Best to Worst Season for Northern Lights
The best time to view the Northern Lights is during the summer months, according to a study released by TripAdvisor. The study looked at factors such as cloud cover, temperature, daylight hours, and weather conditions in order to determine which season is the best for viewing the aurora borealis.
Summer was found to be the most successful season for seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska, with an average of 66 percent cloud cover and fewer hours of darkness.
It may be midnight or one in the morning before you can see the lights, depending on the time of year you go. (The earliest it might possibly be in late August would be 11:40 pm.) There are occasions when they don’t turn up until well after two in the morning.
✓ Clear skies
🗴 Cloudy skies
✓ Clear skies
|🗴 Long daylight hours
✓ Clear skies
|🗴 Very long daylight hours
🗴 Midnight Sun
|🗴 Long daylight hours
✓ Clear skies
Late Autumn is one of the best times to see the aurora. In fall or autumn, when the skies are clear and the temperatures are mild, you can see the Northern Lights quite reliably. Darkness begins to fall earlier, which means the lights will be visible earlier. Late September and October are excellent, and some of the best months to see the aurora borealis.
Early Autumn still experiences quite long daylight hours, reducing Northern Lights visibility. If you are going aurora hunting in August, then the early morning hours from about 3 am to 4 am, is your best bet. However, late-night visibility is not too bad either, as long as there are no major weather fronts moving in.
Even though there is no way to know for sure whether or not the northern lights will put on a display on any given night, the cold season is one of the most ideal times to go to view them. The skies are dark, and in the auroral zone you will have 24 hours of darkness with no light pollution from the sun.
The northern lights may be seen regularly throughout the winter months on evenings with a clear sky. However, clear skies may be at a premium in winter. Chances of cloud cover and precipitation are highest in winter, meaning your view of the aurora could be blocked by thick clouds.
Early Spring is an excellent time to see the Northern Lights. You can often see them in the early spring but getting the right conditions can sometimes be difficult, due to cloud cover and precipitation. The skies however are much clearer than in winter, and the nights are still long providing good darkness, making it an excellent time of year to see the aurora. March in particular is one of the best months of the year to see the aurora borealis.
Late Spring starts to see longer days, and the closer towards summer you go the less nighttime hours you will have to see the aurora. Mid-late Spring can also be unpleasant hiking outdoors due to the muddy ground caused by snowmelt. If travelling in Spring, we recommend sticking to the earlier part of the season.
Can you see northern lights in Summer?
For countries in the auroral zone, which are the best aurora viewing locations, the worst season for viewing the Northern Lights is summer. This is because of light pollution caused by the 24 hours of daylight, known as the Midnight Sun. Simply put, the daylight hours are too long and the skies never get fully dark, so you can’t see the aurora.
If you want to see them in summer, you will need to head south of the auroral zone, such as mainland USA and mainland Europe. However, these are not prime Northern Lights viewing locations as you will only see them during periods of high solar activity, so we don’t recommend you plan an aurora vacation to these spots at all.
Even south of the auroral zone, it can be sunny outside all day long, which can make it difficult to see the light show.
Final Thoughts for Northern Lights Season
If you’re wondering when the season for Northern Lights is, it might be a good idea to think about which season they tend to show up in. Whether you’re interested in seeing them this year or next year, it’s worth doing some research on which season offers the best chance of seeing them.
Generally speaking, the Northern Lights are more likely to be seen during the winter months, provided that you have clear skies. For this reason, the best season for seeing the Northern Lights is early Spring and Late Autumn/Fall. Winter offers great darkness, but higher chance of snow cloud cover.
While the skies are clear and the temperatures are pleasant in summer, the daylight hours are too long to make aurora viewing possible. This is especially so in Alaska and Scandinavia, where Midnight Sun is experienced. For this reason, we don’t recommend planning a Northern Lights vacation during the summer months, from late Spring to early Fall.
Having arrived where you plan to watch the Northern Lights, make sure you keep your eye on an aurora borealis forecast. We discuss a few good aurora borealis forecasting websites here, and if you’re heading to Alaska the Geophysical Institute is considered to be the most accurate.
Sources and further reading
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