Los Angeles/ Weather & Environment
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Published on May 12, 2024
Aurora SoCal Surprise! Northern Lights Dazzle from San Diego to San BernardinoSource: Hunalbe19, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spectators across Southern California received an unexpected treat over the weekend as the Northern Lights appeared in the sky, thanks to a strong geomagnetic storm. The rare phenomenon, more commonly associated with the Arctic skies, colored the night with vibrant shades of purple, pink, green and yellow hues. Reports from excited viewers came from across the state, ranging from San Diego to Northern California.

The powerful solar storm, the largest to impact the U.S. in over two decades, caused the Aurora Borealis to be visible as far south as San Bernardino County. According to KTLA, the geomagnetic storm reached a KP index of 8, which is what allowed these extraordinary sights to be witnessed so far south. Patrick Coyne, a photographer, managed to capture the colorful spectacle and shared on Instagram that the experience "absolutely felt like a dream." "The entire sky showed this gorgeous red/pink color and you could absolutely see it with your eyes," Coyne told KTLA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that the Aurora Borealis could be visible again on Saturday night, and possibly linger through Sunday and into early next week. NOAA rates solar storms on a scale from G1 to G5, with the current storm intensifying to a G5 level. The last occurrence of such an intense storm was back in 2003, noted KTLA.

The geomagnetic storm has the potential to disrupt essential services including communications, GPS, power, and satellite operations. However, no major issues have been reported so far. Shawn Dahl from NOAA explained to CBS Los Angeles, "We're not sure if they've all come through yet, and we're still on the waning edge as they pass by, so tonight we're not sure what to expect." Despite the potential for technical disturbances, residents are primarily astounded by the natural light show. "It was amazing," Brandy Carlos, a resident of Cherry Valley and known as @FirePhotoGirl on X, said in a statement obtained by CBS Los Angeles. "I've never seen it before, that was my first time and the fact that we even got to see it here in Southern California, I mean, it was incredible."

Advisories have suggested that the best chance to witness the Northern Lights is away from city lights, in desert or mountain locations, particularly between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. For those who missed the lights or had their view obstructed by urban glow, newer cell phone cameras might just be able to capture the elusive auroras better than the naked eye can. Incredible footage of the Northern Lights near Mt. High in Southern California has been shared by photographers like Patrick Coyne and Mark Girardeau, as reported by NBC Los Angeles, offering those at home a glimpse of what they might have missed.