Rare Solar Storm Will Make the Northern Lights Visible in Multiple States in 2024

Grab your cameras! A rare storm, the first in 20 years, might make the northern lights visible in the U.S. in 2024.

Lizzy Rosenberg - Author
By

May 10 2024, Updated 9:19 a.m. ET

Northern Lights behind evergreen trees
Source: Getty Images

Seeing the aurora borealis — aka the northern lights — is at the top of many people's bucket lists. And even though it's usually required for continental U.S. residents to venture north to Canada or Alaska to see the magical northern lights, sometimes, Americans are lucky enough that the lights are visible from their homes.

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So you may be wondering: Will I be able to see the northern lights tonight? Keep reading for all the details, plus, previous events in which people were able to see the northern lights.

Northern Lights in Norway
Source: Getty Images

A general view of the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights between Hammerfest and Alta on March 29, 2017 in Finnmark, Norway.

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In May 2024, the northern lights will be visible in parts of the U.S. thanks to a rare solar storm.

The NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) issued a "geomagnetic storm watch" for May 11, 2024, the first in 20 years. A press release from the organization says, "A coronal mass ejection (CME) is an eruption of solar material. When they arrive at earth, a geomagnetic storm can result. Watches at this level are very rare."

The release also states that the CME(s) will arrive on Earth early May 11, 2024. But what do CMEs have to do with northern lights? Actually, CMEs cause the northern lights! According to Earthsky.org, CMEs make a geomagnetic storm when they reach Earth's magnetic field. The impact creates currents that release particles, which interact with oxygen and nitrogen and create the auroras.

According to the Hill, geomagnetic storms are also measured on a 5 point scale, with 5 being the most extreme. The stronger the storm, the more likely to see aurora borealis in places further south, like Texas or Alabama.

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For May 11, 2024, the storm is anticipated to be a G4 — which means, "The aurora may become visible over much of the northern half of the country, and maybe as far south as Alabama to northern California," per NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center.

Photograph of the Northern Lights behind a mountain on a black beach in Iceland.
Source: iStock
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The northern lights were visible in parts of the U.S. and Europe in early November 2023.

On Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023, the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center announced that areas in several Midwest and Northeast states should have a view of the northern lights that night, as reported by USA Today. States included Nebraska, Iowa, and New York.

This was due to a coronal mass ejection, which sparked a geomagnetic storm, as per The Hill. These storms can then lead to the creation of visible auroras, as explained by the SWPC.

Come the following morning, Monday, Nov. 6, various people had shared images of the stunning display captured overnight. Observers spotted the northern lights in U.S. states including Washington, Maine, Wyoming, and Virginia.

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The northern lights made an impressive display in the U.S. July 2023.

The northern lights were visible from the night of Wednesday July 12 into the early hours of Thursday, July 13, 2023, according to Syracuse. They were visible from locations in 17 U.S. states, according to Earth.com: Alaska, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa (according to TIME), Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey (according to Asbury Park Press), New York, North Dakota, Ohio (according to TIME), South Dakota, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming; they were also visible in Vancouver and other areas in Canada, as per TIME.

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How to see the northern lights:

Seeing the northern lights from across the U.S. and Europe is pretty rare — so if you are interested in traveling to see the stunning aurora borealis, you'll want to look into visiting places including: Norway; Fairbanks, Alaska; Finland; Churchill, Canada; Iceland; Sweden; and Pennsylvania's Cherry Springs State Park, as recommended by Travel + Leisure.

Obviously, it needs to be extremely dark to see the northern lights. The best time to view them is generally late at night — and in the middle of nowhere, with little-to-no light pollution, of course.

Even if you don't have binoculars, as long as you're in a region where northern lights visibility is in the forecast, you should be able to see them with the naked eye — as long as it's dark enough, and as long as the skies are clear.

Additional reporting by Sophie Hirsh.

This article, originally published on March 24, 2023, has been updated to reflect the northern lights becoming visible to the U.S. in July 2023, again to reflect their appearance in November 2023, and a third time to reflect their appearance in May 2024.

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