Northern lights could be visible in Illinois, Wisconsin this weekend

Large solar flare could cause geomagnetic storm that would push aurora borealis south

Saturday, October 30, 2021
Northern Lights could be visible in Illinois, Wisconsin this weekend
Parts of the northern U.S. could see the Northern Lights this weekend, incluidng parts of the Chicago area and Wisconsin.

CHICAGO -- A large solar flare erupted Thursday and is set to reach Earth Saturday, which could result in a strong geomagnetic storm and cause the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, to be visible across the US and Europe.

This includes northern Illinois and the Chicago area, as well as Wisconsin, though in order to see the aurora borealis you will have to get far away from any cities and their light pollution. The best chance of seeing the Northern Lights will be on Saturday, said ABC7 Chicago Meteorologist Larry Mowry.

NOAA issued a G3, or "strong" geomagnetic storm watch, for Saturday and Sunday ahead of the flare slamming into the Earth. The scale for geomagnetic storms runs from G1, or minor storm, to G5, an extreme storm.

This geomagnetic storm could cause voltage irregularities and false alarms on some protection devices, NOAA warns. It also could cause high frequency radio blackouts and loss of radio contact on the sunlit side of the earth.

The most visible effect from the impending geomagnetic storm is it will likely supercharge the aurora borealis, making it visible across large parts of the US and Europe.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute Aurora Forecast indicates, weather permitting, the Northern Lights could be visible from Portland Oregon to New York City. It may also be visible on the horizon as far south as Carson City, Nevada, Oklahoma City, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

In Europe, the forecast shows, weather permitting, the aurora borealis may be visible overhead from across Norway, Sweden and Finland, and even as far south as Scotland and St. Petersburg, Russia.

It may be visible on the horizon as far south as Dublin, Ireland and Hamburg, Germany.

The aurora australis, or the Southern Lights, will see similar effects.

The forecast shows from Melbourne, Australia to Christchurch, New Zealand, it may be visible on the horizon.

How do auroras form?

The aurora borealis and aurora australis are stunning, fascinating meteorological phenomena, but how exactly do they form?

To understand the auroras, you have to start by looking at the magnetic field of the Earth. There are weak points at the north and south poles.

The magnetic field mostly protects the Earth from the solar flares and solar wind that come from the sun, but when there are strong solar flares, those particles move around the magnetic field and enter the atmosphere at the polar weak spots.

As those particles move into our atmosphere, they react to the molecules in our atmosphere to create lights in green, yellow and red.

ABC7 Chicago contributed to this report

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