Northern lights forecast: 'Extreme' geomagnetic storm could make aurora visible in NYC

Click here for the latest northern lights forecast for NYC.

An unusually strong solar storm hitting Earth could produce northern lights in the U.S. this weekend and potentially disrupt power and communications.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare severe geomagnetic storm warning when a solar outburst reached Earth on Friday afternoon, hours sooner than anticipated. The effects were due to last through the weekend and possibly into next week.


NOAA alerted operators of power plants and spacecraft in orbit to take precautions, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"For most people here on planet Earth, they won’t have to do anything," said Rob Steenburgh, a scientist with NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

G5 solar storm watch

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare Extreme (G5) Geomagnetic Storm Watch beginning Friday and lasting all weekend. The watch was the first of its kind issued in nearly 20 years.

Credit: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center

According to NOAA, a large sunspot cluster has produced several moderate to strong solar flares since Wednesday.

At least five of those flares were associated with CMEs, or coronal mass ejections, which are explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. The CMEs that were spotted appear to be directed toward earth and could trigger geomagnetic storms.

"Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations," NOAA officials said on their website. "Space Weather Prediction Center has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action." 


Solar flare could disrupt communications, produce northern lights

Northern lights could be visible in much of the U.S. this weekend, but the strong solar storm headed toward Earth could also potentially disrupt communications.

The rare flares seem to be associated with a sunspot that’s 16 times the diameter of Earth. In 2003, an extreme geomagnetic storm knocked out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

"Geomagnetic storms can also trigger spectacular displays of aurora on Earth," officials continued. "A severe geomagnetic storm includes the potential for aurora to be seen as far south as Alabama and Northern California."


'Severe' solar storm could trigger Northern Lights as far south as Alabama Friday night

NOAA upped the Geomagnetic Storm Watch from Moderate to Severe for Friday through Sunday. This is the first Severe Watch in 19 years. That could grace the northern tier skies with auroras but also trigger GPS problems, hamper satellite communication and black out high-frequency radio.

Currently, NOAA’s aurora forecast for Friday night places the southern extent of where the northern lights might be seen in our region just north of the Maryland / Pennsylvania line.

Northern lights forecast for NYC

The FOX Forecast Center said the skies look clear for most of the northern U.S. with less than 10% cloud cover expected from the Midwest to the Northwest. However, clouds will be around in the Northeast. According to the National Weather Service, the skies will be cloudy tonight.

To see NOAA’s aurora forecast, click HERE.

What time is the Northern Lights tonight in NYC?

According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center, the best viewing times are usually within an hour or two of midnight, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. local time.

Effects on power grid, communications

An extreme geomagnetic storm in 2003 took out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

This weekend, NOAA says a swath of the planet could see a blackout of high frequency radio communications for hours. The geomagnetic storm could also cause widespread voltage irregularities in power systems which trigger false alarms on security devices, cause drag on low earth orbit satellites preventing them from orienting and cause range errors and a loss-of-lock for GPS systems.

FOX 5 DC, FOX Weather, FOX TV Digital and the Associated Press wire services helped contribute to this report.