Wyoming skywatchers were treated to an unexpected light show Thursday night as an unanticipated geomagnetic storm spawned brilliant northern lights visible from all over the state.
The lights of the Aurora Borealis didn’t stop in Wyoming, and were seen even further south in states like New Mexico, Oklahoma and North Carolina.
Upset because you didn’t hear about it beforehand? Don’t be. No one knew it was coming.
“It was a total surprise,” said Wyoming meteorologist Don Day. “It caught everyone off guard.”
Day said the National Space Weather Service issued an advisory of a minor geomagnetic storm watch that could happen between March 22 and March 25, but Thursday night’s unexpected storm was anything but minor, registering a G4 on the five-grade scale.
Day said this was the most powerful solar storm in six years. As a result, the lights were a spectacular sight for millions of people in the U.S. – if they were awake. Day was asleep.
“I missed it totally,” Day said, mentioning that he should have gotten an app that sends out text messages if the northern lights can be viewed in your area. “I guess I need to download one.”
Don’t blame Don Day. No one expected it. U.S. space weather forecaster Tamitha Skov told Space.com that these storms are very difficult to forecast.
“These nearly invisible storms launch much more slowly than eruptive CMEs (coronal mass ejections) and are very difficult to observe leaving the sun’s surface without specialized training,” she said, adding that the stealth CMEs also can be “camouflaged” by other, more dense structures emanating from the sun, which makes them difficult to observe.
But don’t tell that to Tim O’Leary, a photographer from Cody. He said he predicted the spectacular nighttime show and has the photos to prove it.
“I saw an article on Space.com about a solar tornado on the sun on Saturday,” O’Leary told Cowboy State Daily on Friday morning. “It mentioned what they called a tornado was 75,000 miles tall and compared it to stacking 14 earths on top of each other.
“With this incredible information, I began watching my aurora apps in anticipation of a great show.”
O’Leary was right. He sent Cowboy State Daily three photos from his vantage point in rural Park County.
Silas Cole, who is 375 miles away in the southeast outpost of Federal, Wyoming, took this photo at 12:15 a.m.
And from the Bear Paw Ranch north of Cheyenne, Gus Schliffke sent in this photo.
Day said last night’s surprise was particularly interesting because the sun is under “heavy surveillance” now as it’s a new solar cycle and there are many “coronal mass ejections” happening.
The good news, Day said, is there will be more light shows ahead for Wyoming as the sun is in a particularly active phase.
So we can all take solace in knowing that there will be more shows to come. In the meantime, we can look at the photos our Wyoming photographers are sharing, like these from Nathan Woodruff of Pinedale, Wyoming.