It turned out there was no known sighting of the Northern Lights in DC Thursday night. Here’s why

A very rare "red Northern Lights" over Virginia in 2003. (Greg Redfern)(WTOP/Greg Redfern)

You may have seen my WTOP story Thursday about the possibility of seeing an aurora (the Northern Lights) in the D.C. region. Thursday night, and in the early hours Friday morning, I was at Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive and found a good view of the North/Northeast. The sky remained clear, for the most part.

For several hours, including the predicted time for the G3 level geomagnetic storm, I kept an eye on the sky and NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. As time went on, the predicted observation line to see the aurora kept moving farther North and away from the D.C. area. By 2 a.m., the predicted observing line was beyond any chance to see an aurora from Virginia, so I packed it in shortly thereafter.

As reported today by, “A CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) hit Earth’s magnetic field on Dec. 1 at 0021 UT (7:21 p.m. EST), jolting the USGS magnetometer in Fredericksburg, Virginia.”

This was believed to be the first of four incoming CME’s, which comprised a Cannibal CME event as I described Thursday. The forecast G3 level geomagnetic storm finally hit its peak at 6:14 a.m. EST.

Aurora chasers across the Northern Hemisphere, including in the U.S., the Midwest, Northeast, Northern Plains and even Arizona, were reported to have seen aurora displays. I have not seen any report of sightings in the D.C. area. I think it would have been less than ideal conditions with bright moonlight still present, slowly brightening skies due to sunrise and reported cloud coverage in the region being 40% and increasing toward being totally overcast.

The early hours before dawn on Saturday in the D.C. area will have some breaks in the cloud cover but predicted aurora viewing conditions are not favorable for the region.

Aurora chasing is all about changing probabilities in the forecasts, sky conditions and making your best guess based upon these inputs. But it is also about the personal patience and endurance of the aurora chaser. The bottom line always is, “If you aren’t out looking, you have zero chance of seeing anything.” I went with the forecasts and am pretty sure I couldn’t have seen aurora earlier today — but will never know for sure.

But what we can count on is having more chances of seeing aurora in the months ahead as the sun continues toward Solar Maximum.

We’ll let you know when we have the next opportunity.

Follow me on X @SkyGuyinVAFacebook and check out my daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. 

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up