My quest to see the Northern Lights began in September 2011 and we’ve been chasing them every winter season since. I had literally just left from visiting Tim while he was living in Iceland and the very next night the Northern Lights danced for a week straight. They were so bright and so active, they even kept him up at night. After Tim raving about how incredible they were, I just had to see for myself.
I got my first chance just three months later when I spent five nights in Rovaniemi, Finland on the Arctic Circle. And for five cloudy nights, I eventually went to bed after watching the sky until the wee hours of the morning.
Then Tim and I traveled to Svalbard in March of 2012. At 78° North and just 600 miles from the North Pole, we were actually above the Aurora Belt. We spent four nights watching for the elusive Aurora. Finally, on our second night in Tromso (on the eve of my birthday) the Northern Lights finally made an appearance. But it was cloudy, they were a white-gray color, and they danced for less than an hour. I had seen them, but it wasn’t what I expected and I craved a more spectacular display.
Wanting to ring in the New Year in Reykjavik because of the fireworks display of epic proportions we had heard about, the trip gave us another excuse to go Aurora hunting.
In the weeks leading up to our Iceland adventure and ever since, we’ve received tons of messages, comments, and emails from readers and followers about trips to see the Northern Lights. We don’t want to be a Negative Nancy, but feel it’s our duty to tell youabout the Northern Lights so you can set realistic expectations for an Aurora hunting trip.
Don’t go for the Northern Lights; go for the destination.
In talking to locals, including our new friend The Aurora Hunter, no one in Iceland had seen the Northern Lights in 3 weeks prior to our sighting. Storms had moved in clouding up the night skies and there just wasn’t much activity going on on the sun.
Had we visited Iceland, Finland, Norway or Svalbard only hoping to see the Northern Lights, we’d probably have been really disappointed. Instead, each destination gave us fantastic opportunities to be mushers for the day, go glacier hiking, and look for polar bears on a snowmobile expedition. Your adventure will be a memorable one when you have activities planned that you’re really excited for and seeing the Northern Lights is an added bonus if they do come out to dance.
But, if you really want the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights, head to Abisko. It’s the driest place in Sweden and has the most clear nights of almost anywhere else in the Aurora belt.
The Northern Lights are unpredictable.
In order to see the Northern Lights, you need a dark, clear night. They are visible from late August to early April anytime during dark hours, which in places like Abisko or Tromsø can be nearly 24 hours a day in winter. There also needs to be solar flares on the sun or solar wind; the Aurora Borealis happens when particles from the sun enter Earth’s atmosphere and collide violently with gas atoms. There are Aurora forecasts and we even use the Aurora Forecast app for iPhone that will predict the aurora activity level.
But the fact is, the Northern Lights are unpredictable. We’ve had clear nights when the Aurora forecast showed level 4 (high) activity and we didn’t see anything. The Aurora forecast said level 0 (no activity) on the night we saw them in Myvatn, Iceland.