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80% chance of seeing the NL?

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Toronto, Canada
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80% chance of seeing the NL?

My husband and I are planning a trip either in Late October or Late November (we're still deciding on what the best time is) to see the Northern Lights. While I was researching I noticed that the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau says that I have an 80% of seeing the lights if I were to stay 3 nights.

For those that live there, or have been, is this generally true? We have the option (budget-wise) of either doing 4 nights in Fairbanks or Whitehorse, Yukon. Which do you think is better for viewing the Northern lights, and which month do you feel has better chances (October or November)?

Your help would be very much appreciated!

fti
MN
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1. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

Welcome to the forum.

I had to laugh when I read that. I was in Denali and Fairbanks for a full two weeks last September and never once saw the Northern Lights. And I was up for hours at a time more than once, though some of that time I had no short-term aurora forecast since I was tent camping inside the park.

In any case, I think being outside Fairbanks (not "in" Fairbanks) will be better than being near Whitehorse - the further north the better. And you want to be at a place away from city lights.

Not sure if it really matters with Oct or Nov. I have been there in Aug/Sep/Mar when I have seen them.

I would spend as much time as you can afford. A week or more would be better than 4 nights. I would also not expect to see them in 4 nights, but if you do count yourselves fortunate.

Wasilla, Alaska
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2. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

I think 80% is optimistic...

You need three things to see the Northern Lights:

1) Dark skies. Coming between mid-September to mid-April makes that work... but you will need to be able to get away from other light sources (street lights, house lights, etc...)

2) Clear skies: It's hard to have much control over the weather... But Fairbanks has a decent chance of getting clear skies.

3) Aurora activity. Which is random luck based on solar activity.

Toronto, Canada
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3. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

Thanks for your replies! We're actually planning on staying just outside of Fairbanks at the Aurora Borealis Lodge, so here's hoping that the weather is on our side.

I know that October might be too early for dog sledding or general winter activities, but do you have an "favourites" that you like to do?

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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4. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

>>>While I was researching I noticed that the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau says that I have an 80% of seeing the lights if I were to stay 3 nights.<<<

It's their job to get people to visit Fairbanks and maybe they have some statistics to back up their claim. I would say "optimistic" would be generous . . . flat out untrue perhaps too harsh (but closer to being honest).

Like others, I've been for extended periods of time (more than three days but less than two weeks) when there were dark nights and have seen limited viewing opportunities. Too many variables to really say you have an 80% chance.

In 2007 I was in Fairbanks for more than a week and saw the aurora almost every night. The following year, the same week in March, we saw them our first night in town and cut our viewing short because I thought we'd have plenty more nights to see them. Well long story short, when there was aurora activity, there were cloudy skies . . . when the skies were crystal clear, there was no solar activity to spark the N/L. Totally a bummer that we were there for more than a week and just saw them the first night in town.

Bristol, Connecticut
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5. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

The math looks something like this, lets say there are 270 days where it is dark enough to see the NL, and according to their statistics you have a an 80 percent chance of seeing the lights 1 out of every 3 nights. So 80% of 90 days, so 72 days of the year you will see the NL in Fairbanks. Sounds about right to me.

I think I am even stretching it when I say 270 days.

Your best bet is to stay as long as you can during a new moon and get outside the city lights.

Chugiak, Alaska
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6. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

What spacefry said. Also, be aware that what they are counting as 'seeing the Northern Lights' includes a line of green low on the horizon. You may not get a big display of majorly moving Lights and lots of bright colors. Not to discount seeing them at all as being plenty cool for some people- I just prefer to be honest about expectation management. My parents were pretty unimpressed with a typical display because they were expecting a big one (which I have only seen a handful of times myself and I've lived here for six years now).

Toronto, Canada
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7. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

wow! thanks for all the replies -- i didn't really think about it how spacefry and alaskantiger mentioned.

i'll definitely take the "80% chance" with a grain of salt, and try to extend my trip.

Thanks!

Pleasanton...
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8. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

I just came from Fairbanks, went there for the same goal - see the NL. Here is what I found out:

1. First off all, there is 11 year solar activity cycle. I think 2013 was the peak, so now it's still a good time, but it's declining, so every year from now for the next 5-8 years the chances will be worse.

2. The activity could happen around the clock but you can see it only during the dark time. So the longer the nights - the more likely you can see it. So they close the NL season officially in mid April - the nights are getting just too short.

3. Clouds. They block the lights. But it's very unpredictable. The clouds and clear skies can change within a couple hours and there is no way to get a good forecast. However, you don't need 100% clear sky. Even a few patches in the North or East direction could be enough to get a glimpse.

4. Light pollution. You usually need darker sky in North and East direction. So there is a big difference if you're on the West or South side of Fairbanks (that's bad), or North-East (that's pretty much as good as driving far away)

5. Full Moon. You can't really hide from it and it masks the NL, but not completely.

So some things are out of your control, but one choice you have to make is the time of the year. Going in winter gives you more hours, but you don't have much to do since it's always dark. Going in shoulder seasons gives you chances to see the NL and do something else. And try to avoid Full Moon. The magnetic activity and weather - think about it as lottery.

Ok, now, keep in mind, that they may stay up there for days or may show up for a few minutes. So you need some kind of alerts and some place to watch. If you stay in a hotel, they will usually wake you up. Or you can get a phone app or sign up for phone alerts - they work but you need to have phone coverage. This is really important, because staring at the sky for all night is not realistic.

About 80%. In my trip, I had NL, then 4 nights w/o them and then again on the 6th night. So you can say 2 out of 6, but if I stayed for the 4 nights in the middle, I would've missed it. So I would say on average most people would see them during 3-5 days, but it could be weeks without any visible lights if there is bad weather or no activity, so treat it as a lottery.

SF
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9. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

Just returned from Fairbanks and we were extremely lucky and saw shows four nights in a row. On one of the trips I asked what the difference between a solar maximum tear and a normal year.was and the guide explained that right now Fairbanks is on a streak of 45 nights straight with some aurora activity viewable. The record before this year in the solar cycle was ten consecutive days. So this demonstrates the difference the Solar cycle peak makes.

In other words the sooner you get up there the better!

SF
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10. Re: 80% chance of seeing the NL?

Just returned from Fairbanks and we were extremely lucky and saw shows four nights in a row. On one of the trips I asked what the difference between a solar maximum tear and a normal year.was and the guide explained that right now Fairbanks is on a streak of 45 nights straight with some aurora activity viewable. The record before this year in the solar cycle was ten consecutive days. So this demonstrates the difference the 11 year Solar cycle peak makes.

In other words the sooner you get up there the better!

Edited: 10:12 am, April 04, 2014