The Northern Lights Could Make an Appearance Over Many Parts of the U.S. This Labor Day Weekend
An incoming G1 or G2 geomagnetic storm is forecasted for Saturday and Sunday.
Have you ever seen the creeping, twisting, and sometimes pulsing green lights they call the aurora borealis? Also known as the northern lights, if this celestial sight is on your bucket list be prepared to make a little effort this weekend and you may just get lucky. A G1 or G2 geomagnetic storm is predicted by the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, and it may cause northern lights to be visible in the U.S.
Where can I see the northern lights this weekend?
Though normally restricted to Alaska, this weekend it may be possible to see the northern lights in the U.S. states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine. Something similar happened in early August. However, according to abc57 locations that also have a “legitimate shot” at seeing the northern lights (though probably as a green glow on the northern horizon) include Omaha, Des Moines, Chicago, Milwaukee, South Bend, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, New York City, and Boston.
How to see the northern lights in the U.S. this weekend
Though they may be visible further south than usual, the best locations where the aurora borealis is more likely to be overhead will still be in the most northern parts of the U.S. close to the border with Canada, and most likely only in the very darkest locations. Be sure to position yourself somewhere as far north as possible with a clear view to the north that isn’t obstructed by any kind of light pollution — and that includes streetlights as well as towns and cities.
Here’s our pick of which U.S. National Parks and protected areas to go this weekend to get a rare glimpse of the “green lady” in action.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
An area of hundreds of islands, Isle Royale National Park is up at 48° N latitude close to the Canada-U.S. border. Surrounded by Lake Superior, it’s all about wilderness and is a haven for kayakers, canoeists, and hikers.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan
Up at nearly 46° N latitude on the shores of Lake Michigan, the 550-acre woodland and lakeside shoreline of Headlands is also an International Dark Sky Park. Though not officially a national park, here on the Straits of Mackinac the northern lights are a common sight between September and April. Get down to the undeveloped Lake Michigan beach and look north.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Nestled in the far southwest of Lake Superior at 47° N latitude are 21 islands and a stretch of north-facing shoreline that makeup Apostle Islands National Lakeshore right at the northern tip of Wisconsin. Bald eagles, falcons, and black bears will keep you company.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Up in this remote corner of northern Minnesota at 48° N latitude, magnificent displays of northern lights are possible at Voyageurs National Park. In fact, they can get pretty incredible here, as proven by this video by ‘More Than Just Parks’ filmmakers Will and Jim Pattiz.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
About 130 miles west of Bismarck where the Great Plains meet the Badlands, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota at 47° N latitude is easily reached by Interstate 94 and has a clear view to the north with no light pollution. Good observing spots could include Skyline Vista and the Painted Canyon Visitor Center.
Glacier National Park, Montana
A massive wilderness area in Montana's Rocky Mountains that needs the border with Canada, Glacier National Park is about as far north as you can get in the contiguous U.S. It’s pretty wild up here at 49° N latitude (it’s home to grizzly bears) and you can visit on Amtrak’s Empire Builder service that runs between Chicago and the West Coast.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The active volcano at the center of Mount Rainier National Park may get a green glow to this weekend. Up here at 47° N latitude, good observing spots include Sunrise Point, the highest point in the park reachable by car at 6,400 feet high, and the Sunrise Visitors Centre nearby. The northern lights behind the mountains could be an iconic sight.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Despite the northern lights possibly being visible in some of the contiguous U.S., it’s to Alaska that you should generally head to see them with any kind of regularity between mid-September and late April. Up at 63° N latitude, Denali National Park —including North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley — can be visited on the Denali Star Train during its 12-hour journey from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
Wherever you decide to head, keep an eye on the NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center for a short-term forecast of northern lights activity, as well as the Fairbanks, Alaska-based Geophysical Institute’s nightly forecast of the northern lights.