As of 5:30 p.m. we are still waiting the arrival of the CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) with currently no indications of its arrival. This isn’t surprising. Forecast guidance from the Space Weather Prediction Center were indicating a glancing blow as a best-case scenario with the bulk of the CME missing earth. So, we’re either looking at a complete miss or the CME has yet to arrive.
I have been monitoring the data streams all day today anticipating its arrival. As it stands, there has been no increase in low-energy protons which often occurs as a CME approaches. It’s a helpful tool to use as an indicator that an impact is imminent. There has also been no uptick in solar wind speed, solar wind density, or the interplanetary magnetic field – all of which are used to monitor space weather conditions.
So, as I was eluded to with yesterday’s post, I think the odds of Illinois (and even southern Wisconsin for those of you wanting to skip town and head north a bit), seeing the aurora are close to zero especially now that we have a blanket of clouds moving in from the west and southwest (seen below).
As always, if you have any questions, shoot us a message and we’ll be happy to answer.
Yesterday morning the sun decided it wanted to wake up from a deep slumber when it launched a CME (coronal mass ejection) towards earth. This CME was associated with a C4 solar flare which typically isn’t even newsworthy. However, we’ve been deep in a solar minimum for quite some time now as the sun begins its transition towards Solar Cycle 25 so anything like this gets our attention. Especially for those of us who are aurora-starved and just looking for an excuse to get out and photograph the night sky.
So, what are my thoughts on Illinois seeing the northern lights this weekend? Well, they probably aren’t what you all were hoping. A lot of things are going to be working against us here. First of all, a C4 flare and CME is nothing to write home about. As stated above, this generally isn’t newsworthy. After reviewing model data (below) of the CME, it looks as though the CME will arrive sometime during the day on Saturday. My initial guess tells me sometime between 8am and 6pm. Clearly, the latter would be much better for us here in Illinois since that is closer to sunset. CMEs are notoriously difficult to model, though, so that time window should be taken lightly. I will have to monitor space weather data from the DSCOVR satellite to determine when the CME arrives.
Secondly, there is the possibility of cloud cover for parts of the state. Given it is still a couple days out and there are chances of rain showers across portions of the state, I’ll hold off on issuing a cloud forecast until we get closer to the event and I can analyze satellite data to make a call. Nowcasting is very important when it comes to space weather.
Finally, we have to overcome the moon phase. We just had a full moon so the moon is still almost completely full in the night’s sky and unfortunately it will be rising close to 10:30 on Saturday night. While it isn’t impossible to see the aurora with a full moon, it does make it much more difficult. Especially down here in the middle latitudes where our aurora are often more faint and subdued in terms of color than those magical photos you often see from Norway, Iceland, Churchill or Alaska.
So what can we actually expect? Personally, I don’t expect much. I think the G2 warning is likely overdone and I don’t think anyone in Illinois will be able to see the aurora with their naked eye due to the inhibiting factors listed above. That being said, the aurora tends to produce very well around the equinoxes due to a process called the Russel-McPherron Effect. While it is not well understood, the magnetic field lines that connect the sun and earth tend to align around the equinoxes. Because of this, even weak disturbances in space weather conditions can spark auroras. I believe that was taken into consideration when the SWPC made their G2 forecast. With that being said, I think we would need a stronger solar storm generated by a more potent CME– ideally G3 to G5 – with a new moon and the arrival of the CME timed where the peak of the storm is occurring around midnight in order to provide us with maximum darkness in order to see the northern lights in Illinois with our naked eyes. Oh, we also need the weather on earth to cooperate too and you would need to find a location away from city lights – sorry, Chicago.
Assuming everything comes together, i.e. we get clear skies, the CME happens to arrive around 5pm or so and it peaks shortly after sunset, I will be monitoring conditions and post any updates as to whether the aurora can be seen on camera (possible) or if I think the aurora will be visible with the naked eye (unlikely).
For those of you who want to risk it and test your luck regardless and want some viewing advice, it’s really pretty simple. Go out and find yourself a good, unobstructed view of the northern horizon. The aurora (if seen on camera or with the naked eye) will likely be low on the horizon. I also want to make sure to note that if you are lucky enough to see the northern lights with your naked eye, don’t be surprised if what you see is a dull gray or diffuse color rather than the rich, vibrant colors you often see in photos. This is because a camera can see a lot more than our eyes can. The photo I took below was when the aurora was clearly visible over Lake Superior but I saw no color. What I saw was a waving curtain rippling across the sky in a gray/dull white color. However, my camera picked up all the color you see here in the image. Hunting for the northern lights is a fickle hobby. If you like sitting and waiting this might be the thing for you! It’s worth it. But that’s about it for viewing tips. As I said, it’s really pretty easy. Just keep your fingers crossed for a substorm (a short-lived intensification in the aurora, to keep it basic) and you might get lucky!
If anyone has any questions on camera settings, shoot us a message and I’ll be happy to answer them. I’ve photographed the aurora several times from my home down near St. Louis so it is possible to do. I’ve also seen them with my naked eye on the shores of Lake Superior and they are absolutely mesmerizing. It’s something I hope each and every one of you get to see at some point in your lives.
As technology continues to advance, we are left with a question in regards to the aging technology of outdoor warning sirens. Are they worth it? According to Harvard, IL the answer is no. Harvard joins a growing number of communities across the nation that has recently chosen to no longer invest in the sirens.
This all began back in February of 2019 when the sirens began sounding for no apparent reason - freaking people out. An investigation was launched and it was determined that the systems did not malfunction but rather someone gained access and then activated them.
The official statement from the town is posted below, but in summary, the cost to upgrade and maintain the system does not justify the worth. The existing sirens don't even cover the entire town anyways.
The decision to not continue with the use of sirens may sound surprising at first, but is actually a growing trend in recent years and brings up new debate.
Outdoor warning sirens were first developed as a means to alert to possible enemy attacks back in the WW era. It wasn't until the 'Palm Sunday' outbreak in 1965 that the thought to use them for severe weather was first realized. Back then, communication - and overall knowledge about weather - was not what it is today. Weather radios didn't exist, the internet hadn't been invented, and smart phones certainly weren't around.
These days there is no excuse for someone to not be able to receive weather information right in the palm of their hands. Numerous apps exist to send alerts straight to your phone, and weather radios are more portable and affordable than ever.
Sirens have their use (aside from cool audio in storm chaser video) in alerting people who might not be paying attention outdoors, but they have limitations. They are not designed to be heard inside, and people who rely SOLEY on them will not be alerted. In many cases, they will not wake you up at night. The cost to maintain the systems is a burden for many jurisdictions.
The Harvard case highlights another issue. As technology continues to advance, individuals may have to take on the responsibility of ensuring they can receive warning information as opposed to relying on someone else to activate the sirens - as more and more towns continue to phase them out.
(6:00PM - 3/9/19) It's that time of year again...Time to push the clocks forward 1 hour at 2AM tonight. Losing an hour of sleep tonight and having to get used to the time change can be hard for some, but the good news is that it will once again be staying light out later in the evening beginning tomorrow. It's also another sign spring in around the corner!
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Remember the polar vortex back in late January? That was a fun one right? During that snap, there were - at the time - unofficial reports that the station in Mount Carroll, IL recorded a temperature of -38 degrees. If these were to be true that would beat out the previous record of -36 .
Well, the State Climate Extremes Committee (SCEC) unanimously voted to validate the -38 degrees reading observed on January 31st as the new official state record minimum temperature. This committee ensures that the observation is meteorologically possible, is within a range that the reporting instrument can detect, and that the instrument is in proper working order.
This beats out the previous record of -36 set in 1999 at Congerville.
A complete review can be found here https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/extremes/scec/reports
Pictured above is the observation site at Mt Carroll. So congratulations to everyone who lived and survived the event. The word historic often gets used when it doesn't need to when describing weather events. In this case, its absolutely warranted. Now, I don't know about you, but I am ok with that record holding for awhile.
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