Viewing the Northern Light (Aurora Borealis)
Summer Months: So that a lot of your time is not wasted we will start with viewing during the months of June, July and August. One of the key ingredients for viewing the Northern Lights is darkness and we don’t have much if any during these three months. You will not be seeing any Northern Lights during these months. You may be offered tickets to go see a Northern Lights Show or Aurora Borealis Show but these are films or slide show inside a theater. Don’t waste your money you can see the same thing on the Discovery Channel.
Fringe Months: During the months of May and September you may have a chance to see them as there is some darkness late at night. You window for viewing is very limited then making your chances slim.
Outer Fringe Months: October, November, April there is a good chance to view the lights as darkness is more prevalent across the land.
Best Months: December, January, February, and March: These months your chances are high for seeing the lights. March is my preferred month to suggest to visitors if traveling to Fairbanks since there are more major events happening then.
Forecasting and Predictions: You now know the best months but will the lights be out for you? There are folks out there that do predictions and forecasts but just like weather closer to earth they are not a guarantee for activity. Basically Northern Lights activity is directly connected to Solar Activity. The stormier the sun is the more energy it release towards earth. The suns activity is measure in something called KP the higher the KP the more activity. Here are some web sites offering forecasts and more scientific information.
Viewing in and around Fairbanks: First off if you are at a hotel in town and look up and see the lights do not attempt to race out of town to see them. The lights may only be out for a few minutes or for hours why chance missing the show.
Safe Driving: If you are going to be driving to a viewing location I would like to take this time for some safe driving tips.
1. Watch for Moose: Moose will walk out into the road bed without warning. Continually scan the sides of the road for movement. If a cow moose crosses the road in front of you slow down and be aware that s Cow Moose may have one or two calves following behind her.
2. Do not drive with yours eyes in the sky! Our roads are covered with ice and snow and we have many a frost heave (a bump or series of bumps in the road caused by permafrost melting and re-freezing). Slow down on those curves as they may be slick and see number 1 above.
3. Take along winter gear even if you don’t think you need it. If your car decides to roll to a stop it can get really cold prior to someone coming to get you. Be ready to hoof it if you lose cell phone coverage. I think anywhere I recommend is inside cell phone coverage so you should be okay there.
4. If the temperatures drop down to around -40 F (-40 C) a phenomenon known as Ice Fog will occur. Ice Fog is caused by water vapor freezing and becoming microscopic ice particles. Ice Fog normally settles upon Fairbanks do to an inversion layer found in the city during the winter. As you climb in altitude the temperature increases and the fog clears up. These temperatures are normal during January and February but can also occur in December and March. The normal dangers of driving in fog are the same. The problem is that cars tend to roll to a stop for no reason. Winter clothing must be kept in the car! I don’t recommend anyone traveling when there is Ice Fog just for the temperatures alone.
Here is a list of what I consider safe viewing areas.
1. You can drive to the south ends of South Cushman or Pegar Roads. Not much traffic and no city lights also they are close to town.
2. Drive to the South End of the runway at Fairbanks International. There is a road that wraps all the way around the airport. There is parking there and it is dark.
3. Hagelbarger Ave pullout. Nice pullout with a southern view of the city. Only 5 miles from the Johansen Expressway traveling north on the Steese Highway. Pullout is on the left as you turn onto Hagelbarger.
4. If you want to get higher than Hagelbarger you can cross the Steese onto Bennett Road and take the first left up Gilmore Trail and climb to the top you will be able to find areas safe for observing up there.
6. Chena Lakes Recreation Area just past North Pole is the Chena Lakes Recreation Area. It is open in the winter and really dark there. Just follow the signs after you past the City of North Pole.
Note: I consider driving out Chena Hot Springs Road as dangerous. The road is dark, curvy, and with lots of frost heaves.
Lodging: I will not address lodging since I live here and have never used any of those services.
Good Luck and Good Hunting!