GREAT FALLS — The Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) made an appearance over the skies of Montana on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
A moderate geomagnetic storm over the weekend produced the aurora.
Some people headed out of town to escape the city lights in order to maximize their chances of seeing - including Brennen Hankins of Great Falls, who drove up Highway 87 to near Fort Benton to capture some photos, and Aubrey Groneman, who shot photos near Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park:
The National Weather Service notes that “in order to know whether you have a chance of seeing an aurora, you need to know the level of geomagnetic activity at the time you are viewing.” The possibility of actually seeing the Northern Lights increases with a town or city’s latitude. Great Falls notably sits at a magnetic latitude of 54.9.
While the Northern Lights are typically only seen at magnetic latitudes of around 67, NWS explains “[w]hen geomagnetic activity is very high, the aurora may be seen at mid and low latitude locations around the earth that would otherwise rarely experience the polar lights.”
Jim Thomas, the operator of Soft Serve News, posts frequent updates on his website to let people know how likely it is that the Northern Lights may be visible.
Thomas also notes: "Experienced Northern Lights hunters are familiar with disappointment. Predictions of when the CME cloud or a high speed solar wind stream hits the earth are not always accurate. Sometimes CME events produce much smaller displays than expected, or even none at all. Even with these uncertainties, seeing the grandeur of a powerful Aurora Borealis display may be a once in a lifetime event, so for some it's worth the gamble to try."
Here are several videos highlighting viewer photos of the Northern Lights seen in Montana over the last several years: