Spectacular Northern Lights display expected across US this weekend

A Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch raises the possibility of viewing the Northern Lights across the northern half of the U.S., and mostly clear skies are predicted for the Pacific Northwest.

NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) in Boulder, Colorado, issued a G4 (Severe) Geomagnetic Storm Watch on a 5-level scale for Saturday, May 11.

Keep reading to learn more about a Geomagnetic Storm Watch and how and where you might be able to see the lights in Seattle this weekend. 

What is a geomagnetic storm?

For most people, a Geomagnetic Storm Watch is not something to be concerned about. The watches help government agencies, power providers, telecommunication companies and satellite operators prepare to protect systems impacted by space weather.

Geomagnetic storms can produce stronger aurora borealis lights or Northern Lights, which normally occur at the poles, but space weather can cause the lights to expand into the northern edge of the U.S.

Geomagnetic storms could become more frequent over the next year as the sun begins to move into the solar maximum phase of its 11-year cycle.

A solar cycle is a sequence the sun’s magnetic field goes through every 11 years, where the field flips.

northern lights photo

Northern lights (aurora borealis) animate the night sky on September 8, 2022 in Bettles, Alaska. The village serves as a gateway for flights to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Reserve. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images))

When is the best time to see the Northern Lights?

The best time to view the aurora is typically between midnight and 3 a.m., when the sky is the darkest.

When can I see the Northern Lights this weekend?

The University of Alaska Fairbanks aurora forecast shows the chance of seeing Northern Lights increase Friday, May 10, stretching down into the northernmost states. On Saturday, May 11, high aurora activity stretches even further south into the northern half of the U.S.

Those with cloud-free skies will have the best chance to see the dancing lights, so be sure to check your weather forecast.

The National Weather Service Seattle shared a map Thursday of cloud cover percentages for Western Washington, most of which were under 25%.

map of cloud cover chances

A map showing the cloud cover chances for May 11, 2024. (NWS Seattle)


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FOX Weather contributed to this report.