GREAT FALLS — On Thursday, October 28th, the Sun released an X1- class solar flare, which is one of the more intense solar flares. The coronal mass ejection (CME) from this flare was released directly toward Earth, and may reach Earth on Saturday or Sunday (October 30th or October 31st).
In response to this solar flare, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center issued a G3 Geomagnetic Storm Watch for October 30th, and a G2 Geomagnetic Storm Watch for October 31st. These watches go into effect at 6pm MDT on October 29th and will expire at 6pm MDT on October 31st.
When these watches are issued, that typically means that there is a good chance that some of us in the mid-latitudes will see the Aurora Borealis, often referred to as the Northern Lights.
The geomagnetic activity level is represented by the Kp number. The larger the Kp number is, the stronger the aurora borealis is, and the further south the Aurora Borealis can be seen. Right now, the Kp number is expected to be around 6 or 7 this weekend, which means that the Aurora Borealis will likely be able to be seen in most of Montana.
The highest Kp number is expected to occur during the day on Saturday and Saturday night. We won't be able to see the Aurora Borealis during the day, but we are going to have a very good chance to see the Aurora Borealis at least on the horizon, and maybe even overhead in some spots Saturday night.
Now we get into the issue of the weather. If we have clouds around, then we will not have any chance to see the Aurora Borealis. Right now, the forecast for Saturday night calls for partly to mostly cloudy skies in southern Montana, and mostly clear skies in northern Montana. So if you want to possibly see the Aurora Borealis Saturday night, then make sure you are in the northern half of Montana.
This is one of the best chances that we have had to see the Northern Lights in a while, so definitely try and check them out if you can! In order to get the best viewing, make sure you are as far away from city lights as possible.
If you take any pictures of the Aurora Borealis, feel free to send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will try to share some of them!
Video highlighting viewer photos over the last several years:
From September 2019: