The Northern Lights May Appear Over Northern U.S. Tonight

There's a chance you could spot the northern lights in the US the night of April 13 into the morning of April 14.

northern lights forecast april
Photo by basiczto/Shutterstock

With a little luck, residents in the northern reaches of the US might be able to spot the northern lights the night of April 13 into the morning of April 14. 

Forecasters from the Space Weather Prediction Center (SWPC) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say there's the potential for a G2-class geomagnetic storm to graze Earth. It's the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME), which can result in the northern lights appearing further south than you normally expect to see them. Spaceweather.com says that "during such storms, auroras can be see as far south as, e.g., New York and Idaho."

Though, that's under ideal conditions with the weather cooperating and the impact of the CME being as strong as forecast, which is not always the case. Forecasts aren't guarantees, and the aurora can be difficult to predict.  

The video below is from an evening when there was a G1-class alert from the SWPC, viewed from Graceville, Minnesota in the fall of 2020. In that situation, you aren't likely to see the vibrant ribbons streaming overhead that you can find in, say, Iceland or Sweden at the right time of year. The display is nonetheless moving. 

How To See the Northern Lights

Nothing can guarantee an appearance from the northern lights. A geomagnetic storm alert from the SWPC does, however, mean that the stars are aligning for aurora hunters. The SWPC currently forecasts a G1 watch (a minor watch) from 11 pm to 2 am ET on April 13 into April 14. The G2 alert, considered moderate, starts at 2 am, and runs to 5 am and is followed by another three-hour slot with a G1 alert. 

That provides a short window late at night into the morning, running up against sunrise. Timing can change, though. It's an unpredictable phenomenon. A site like Aurorasaurus, the SWPC's 30-minute forecast, or resources like Space Weather Watch on Twitter are good resources to keep an eye on for updates closer to real-time.

An SWPC representative previously told Thrillist, "You need very clear skies, a good view of the northern horizon (no trees, buildings, or hills), and it needs to be dark [to get a good view of the aurora]." The northern lights, seen this far south, will likely be visible along that horizon rather than directly overhead.

For the best view, get away from light pollution, which is harder than you might realize. You need a dark sky to see the aurora. It's unlikely you'll see it in a city, let alone a hub like Detroit, Seattle, or New York City. The further you are from light pollution, the better your chance of seeing whatever is up there. This Light Pollution Map or the Dark Site Finder may help you locate an area with dark skies near you. (There are great stargazing locations that aren't far from big cities.)

To get the northern lights off your bucket list, you need persistence and patience. They might not be there one moment and could be the shortly after. You can't be sure you're going to see them during any outing, but the only way to see them is to get out there when the variables are aligning in your favor.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities.

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.