For once, clearing skies in Juneau pull back curtain on brilliant aurora

Juneau resident Mike Sparks seeing the aurora for the first time, from north Douglas Island on Nov. 4. 2021. (courtesy of Paige Sparks)

Juneauites braved icy roads Wednesday night and Thursday morning, heading out to places like Sandy Beach and points along North Douglas to view the most brilliant aurora seen from town in recent memory.

The lights appeared amid a skein of clouds that, for once, had opened just enough. Many who passed up sleep to see the aurora posted images to social media showing intense green waves, purple spikes and ribbons of deep red dancing over the mountains and Gastineau Channel.

The aurora lights up the sky the over Auke Bay/North Juneau on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 in Juneau, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Spann said auroras aren’t rare over Juneau, but Southeast weather patterns mean that it is rare for people to see them.

“During our longer nighttime hours is when we have the best chance to view the aurora, but those hours unfortunately coincide with fall and winter, which are the more active weather seasons,” he said.

Predictions for favorable aurora viewing in Southeast started late last week, with forecasts for clearing skies coinciding with a geomagnetic storm watch issued by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. But in Juneau, it didn’t pan out over the weekend.

Spann said the weather conditions that made this morning’s spectacular viewing possible are aren’t common at this time of year.

“Our best chance to see the aurora in Juneau and Southeast is when there’s offshore flow, which brings drier air and clearing skies to the panhandle. Unfortunately, that does not happen very often,” he said.

Ian Dickson

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