Oak Hill, WV (WOAY-TV): The recent showcase of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights deep into the South are a sign of things to come in the next few months.
Here’s Chief Meteorologist Chad Merrill’s story:
The aurora forms 60 to 400 miles above Earth’s surface when a solar flare on the sun erupts and sends out high energy particles that collide with electrons when they approach the outer part of Earth’s atmosphere. The energy of the electrons interact with various gases in our atmosphere, including oxygen and nitrogen to give off light in different colors that we call the northern lights.
History shows the northern lights happen most frequently when the sun is in active solar cycle and produces an increasing number of sunspots. As you see here, we are coming out of a low sunspot period to a high sunspot cycle. So, these light shows will become more common for the next two years.
The higher frequency geomagnetic storm years include 1994, 2003 and 2015, which coincide with the active sunspot cycle. The top four days with the highest KP index, which is used to measure the level of activity with an aurora and how far south it will be seen, include October 29-30, 2003, July 15, 2000 and March 31, 2001. These vibrant auroras occurred two solar cycles ago when sunspot activity was higher than what is expected in the current active cycle.
In the near term, notice we are game for another display of the northern lights through May 4 with another chance at the Aurora Borealis on May 12. However, even beyond mid-May there will be a few more displays.
Prior to Monday’s aurora, the most recent display was just one month prior on March 24. So, chances are pretty good we’ll see another one before Memorial Day given the active solar cycle we are in right now!
We’ll keep you updated when the next solar storm could yield a beautiful display of lights that might be seen in our neck of the woods. The ideal conditions to see the display include clear skies with a new moon. Clouds and a full moon will block most of the light. Chief Meteorologist Chad Merrill reporting for Newswatch.
Story Image: The Aurora Borealis as seen from Chena Hot Springs, Alaska, in April of 2013. (Courtesy LCDR Gary Barone, NOAA Corps (ret.)