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Will Cincinnati and Ohio see the Northern Lights this weekend?

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Skywatchers get ready: Thanks to increased solar activity, the Northern Lights could appear in the sky over much of the United States this weekend, space weather forecasters said Thursday.

Federal forecasters at NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center said that during previous solar activity of this magnitude, “the aurora has been seen as low as Alabama and Northern California.” Experts say the aurora could be visible Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening.

The spectacle is said to be thanks to a series of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) from the Sun, which are expected to reach Earth this weekend and trigger the geomagnetic storms that cause auroras. A G4 (severe) geomagnetic storm watch is in effect on Saturday, May 11, NOAA said.

The Northern Lights are the most favorable outcome of solar activity. Strong solar storms – including G4s – could also disrupt some radio communications, damage satellites and even disable power systems, forecasters warned.

Storm watch upgraded to G4

“This weekend’s geomagnetic storm watch has been upgraded from G2 (moderate) to G4 (severe),” said astronomer Tony Phillips, writing at SpaceWeather.com. “Why? Because the giant sunspot AR3664 continues to hurl CMEs towards Earth. After today’s X2.2 solar flare, there are now at least four storm clouds heading our way,” Phillips said.

The colorful aurora is created when particles streaming from the sun become entangled in the Earth’s magnetic field. The particles interact with molecules of atmospheric gases and cause the famous glowing green and reddish colors of the aurora.

A fickle prediction

It can be difficult to predict the aurora, so some caution is advised before adjusting your weekend plans. Unlike weather on Earth, scientists predicting space weather – which includes the aurora – must rely on observations of the Sun from 93 million miles away to make their predictions.

“There are so many uncertainties that it’s hard to predict,” Bill Murtagh, program coordinator at the Space Weather Prediction Center, told USA TODAY last year. And as difficult as it is to predict weather here on Earth, “we are decades behind the forecasting capabilities of our colleagues in meteorology,” he admitted, referring to space weather.

The solar maximum is there

The Northern Lights, or Northern Lights, have been appearing more frequently in the night sky over the United States lately. For example, in April 2023, a stunning aurora display was seen as far south as Arkansas to the south and Arizona to the west.

So why the increase in aurora sightings? And is this expected to remain the case? Well, if you love the aurora, you’re in luck, because it may be coming to a sky near you more often in the coming years thanks to the ‘solar maximum’, which is expected to peak this year.

“There has been an increase in the Northern Lights overall on Earth,” Shannon Schmoll, director of the Abrams Planetarium at Michigan State University, told USA TODAY last year. “The sun has been more active, which has resulted in more solar storms causing solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME).

Tips for viewing the Northern Lights

“Go outside at night,” NOAA said. “And get away from the city lights.”

The best aurora is usually within an hour or two after midnight (between 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM local time). These hours extend into the evening and morning as the level of geomagnetic activity increases.

There may be aurora in the evening and morning, but it is usually not as active and therefore not as visually appealing, NOAA said.

Cincinnati’s weekend weather forecast

Check Accuweather for the latest weather forecast, but here we are Thursday evening.

Friday night: Partly cloudy. Cloud cover at 35 percent

Saturday night: Mainly clear. Cloud cover of 10 percent

Sunday night: Mainly clear. Cloud cover at 19 percent