NOAA Nails It!

NOAA Nails It!

In his opening scene in Twin Peaks, FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper said, when referring to the ability of a meteorologist to accurately predict the weather, “If I could get paid that kind of money for being wrong 60% of the time, it would beat working!” We have all at one point in our time complained about an inaccurate weather forecast.  But how often do we praise the weatherman when he gets it right? What about when the Earth weather and space weather forecast is right on? Well, when it leads to an amazing night of aurora borealis photography, some praise is in order.

If you have read my prior blog post on “How to Shoot the Aurora Like a Pro,” then you would know that I subscribe to an email aurora forecast service provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  More than once a day, I will receive a table – like the one indicated in the graphic below – showing the forecast for the next 72 hours.  Since the time table is in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), I have to adjust it for Alaska Standard Time, which means subtracting 8 hours. Thus, according to this table, there was going to be some good action between 4 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. on Friday night, Saturday morning, February 7-8.


Having an idea of what the space weather might do is just part of the planning.  The other part is the Earth weather forecast. For that night, NOAA had forecast that most of the Southcentral Alaska region – from the Kenai Peninsula up through the Matanuska-Susitna Valley – would remain mostly cloudy through the night. However, the forecast did say that for the area north of Talkeetna and through Cantwell, the skies would be clearing in the evening. So, at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, I headed north, with a goal of Broad Pass in the Alaska Range – just a short distance south of Cantwell.

By the time I got to Broad Pass about four hours later, there was still some twilight in the sky.  And, consistent with the NOAA forecast, the skies were completely clear. I drove to the last pullout in the pass before the descent to Cantwell and got out to take a look at the sky. I could already see some pillars of aurora off in the distance, so I composed some images to include the Parks Highway and some nearby trees. But the lights were way to the north, and it was still early (it wasn’t even fully dark yet), so I continued on into Cantwell, and east on the Denali Highway as far as I could go. In the summer, you can drive from Cantwell to Paxon – but in the winter, the road is not maintained and you can only go a few miles before you run into a barricade.  (If you have a snowmachine, though, it’s a great place to go!)

But, consistent with the space weather forecast, when I pulled over and stopped at the end of the maintained area, there they were – the lights of the aurora borealis dancing over the Alaska Range to my north. They danced for a while, then subsided, and then a while later they were calmly dancing overhead and to the south.  Then, they built up and kept going on a crescendo until a sky-filling climax at 11:30 that lasted a half hour.  They still kept going with a gentle, shimmering display for a while after that.

So, let me say, “Thank you very much” to NOAA for a forecast that put me at the right place at the right time to capture some amazing images of the aurora borealis!



One Response to “NOAA Nails It!”

  1. Kay Says:

    I like that you quoted Twin Peaks in your opening paragraph. That won some points with me.
    Most of all, this photo is a gem. I would love to have the opp to catch the Northern Lights sometime. I’m not as well-versed as you when it comes to the scientific or technical points. But I can appreciate the work it took for you to take the photo. Thanks Carl.

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