A strong solar storm predicted to hit Earth's magnetic field early Thursday is expected to generate northern lights across Alaska in the coming days, but cloudy weather may make it tough to catch a glimpse.
The National Weather Service said the storm, which shot out from the sun toward the Earth on Tuesday, was expected to hit around midnight Alaska time on Wednesday. It's supposed to expand the Aurora Borealis south of Juneau and across the northern United States through Friday, across Minnesota and into New England.
"Aurora watchers should be ready," the National Weather Service Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo. said in a posting online.
Solar storms, or eruptions from the sun, happen frequently on a smaller scale, but this is a fairly large one -- more of a once-in-a-year occurrence, said Don Hampton, a research professor at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. That means a bigger impact on the Earth's magnetic field.
"What will probably happen is we will certainly see plenty of aurora in Alaska, if it's clear," Hampton said,
Here's the bad news: Cloudy conditions are forecasted across Alaska through the end of the week.
"Unfortunately, I don't think it looks great," said Andy Dixon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Anchorage office.
A few breaks in the clouds are possible for just after midnight Wednesday -- around the time the solar storm is predicted to reach Earth -- but Dixon said he "wouldn't bet too much on that."
Alaskans that do manage to see the aurora might see more red than usual, Hampton said.
For pilots and other navigators who rely on satellite communication, the storm may disrupt GPS devices, Hampton said, adding: "Make sure you can see the horizon."
The Associated Press reported that airline flights were already being diverted around the poles.
Reach Devin Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4314.
UAF Geophysical Institute aurora forecast
Reader photos: 2013/14 aurora borealis
Reader photos: 2012/13 aurora borealis
By DEVIN KELLY