The weather can be fickle in Alaska

Well we have had some outstanding Aurora events caused by recent solar weather and I have only captured a few scant frames that are by no means spectacular.

Clouds have been a major issue.

On 2/18 the solar numbers looked to be good and all the weather information I had pointed to the skies being best to the north and northwest of Anchorage. So I loaded up and headed out driving just a bit over 100 miles to the Parks Highway Big Su river bridge.

The sky was quiet when I got there at about 9:30pm. There had been a fairly nice show about an hour earlier but I was in transit and driving alone. It is not wise to be looking at the sky while driving at night. I know of at least one person who ended up high centered on a snow berm in the middle of the night farther north where it is a much lonelier place to be stuck.

I got a few images but nothing to rave about. Then the clouds moved in and that left a choice of driving back to town or continuing north. There were a few reports of clearer skies back toward town so south I went. I had been joined at the Big Su with two other members of the Facebook Aurora Notification group and they were as disappointed as I.

The interior of Alaska has been blessed with relatively clear skies and moderate temps for the last week so they have been shooting up a storm.

Parks Hwy at Big Su
Faint Aurora over the Parks Highway at the Big Su river

I will continue the hunt.

It’s All In The Timing

One of the largest solar events of the last 12 months arrived just as a huge weather system pulled a blanket of heavy overcast and snow over most of southcentral Alaska and the interior. Perfect timing.

I can only hope that the displays will last til the next weather window.

Given the circumstances of the solar flare, the displays should be quite spectacular and driven further south than normal.

The solar sunspot 11 year cycle is due to peak in 2013. I have heard rumors of a “double peak” for this cycle. We shall see.

Good luck and good shooting.

1-21-2012 display
Short Display

Huge Solar Event Reported

The University of Alaska Aurora Forecasters have issued a report of three solar events; the last of which was a solar flare with a coronal ejection. The particles should begin to interact with the atmosphere within the next hour.
I have loaded up the Dodge with coffee, hand warmers, and camera gear.
I have motored out to clear skies. And I wait.

Midnight and still I wait.
Here is the text from the forecast.

Forecaster Comments: Three solar events occurred on Jan 18/19, 2012. The first two were small and of short duration. The last one was a coronal mass ejection associated with a long-duration solar flare from the northeast quadrant of the Sun. The location is such that the event is not facing Earth directly, but the intensity, duration and development are such that it will lead to increased auroral activity on this weekend.
The shock and the effects should reach Earth as early as 6 am GMT the 21st. That is approximately 10 hours from the time of this message. We should expect K=4 or greater auroral activity starting late on the night of the 20th in Alaska and North America and on the 21st in Russia and Europe.

Now we are dealing with certain immutable laws of physics. If there was a coronal mass ejection, there will be Northern Lights. Just as sure as death and taxes.
And I wait.

It is now 1:00am AST, Orion spins slowly to the south and I wait.
The only traffic in the sky is the occasional aircraft and the slow transit of a planet. We are too far north to see the ISS as she cruises by. The last highway traffic was almost a hour ago. Even the owls have deserted me.
I have one tripod set up and waiting. I have not activated the hand warmers as yet because I have only been out in the sub zero temps long enough to setup and take a few test shots with the D700 and the 28mm f/2 wide angle.

Other than that, I wait.

The forecast has been upgraded from “active” to “extreme”. This higher than I have ever seen it. However, the short term is still “low”.

1:40am AST

There has been a faint showing to the north and I made a few images. I had to crank in a whopping +3EV but I got something. At the same time there has been footsteps in the snow several hundred feet to the north near the tree line. Most disconcerting since no eyes are reflected back in the beam of an LED Maglite.

I feel the show is near. A few minutes in the cold causes ice to form in my beard and mustache. The ballhead no longer pivots on the tripod but the ball still swivels in the socket so we are still functional.

I wait…..

3:00am AST

She’s teasing me. It will look like a decent display will be starting to form and I will jump out and mount the camera only to have it fizzle out. My fingers got a bit of frostbite on the last go around because the shoe did not want to mate with the clamp. At these temps I don’t blame it.
I had to do a battery swap due to the cold.
Short term forecast is “quiet”.

I wait.

4:00am AST

Absolutely nothing has occurred since the last update. No vehicles. No animals. And no Aurora. She even quit teasing.
I generate more noise than anything else for 15 miles.

We are heading into another sweet spot when “statistically” the lights should show. Why do I get the feeling the event will occur during the daylight hours?
She can’t get rid of me that easy. I have coffee and I’m not afraid to use it.
If not in what’s left of this night, I will be back tomorrow night. The weather is forecast to change and we may lose our clear skies. We shall see.

Meantime, I wait.

5:00am AST

Four vehicles have just went by; one of them a taxi. Don’t know where the taxi was going. The next town in that direction is 50 miles. Hope the driver gets a nice tip.
Still bupkis on the light show. Two hours til daylight. But the coffee is still hot and strong. Thanks Pammy!

I still wait.

6:00am AST

Long term forecast still “extreme”; short term shows low. Will head for the barn at 7:00. Pulled tripod in to thaw in case of need.

Waiting

7:00am AST

Somedays you get the bear; somedays the bear gets you. Time to up stakes.

Home to sleep til this evening.

Aurora 1-20-2012
Just a Tease