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Strong solar storm may bring chance to view northern lights to midwestern, northwestern US Wednesday night

December 30, 2015; 10:37 PM

A recent solar storm may create an opportunity to see northern lights in the United States as far south as Iowa and Nebraska on Wednesday night.

After a flare erupted from the sun on Dec. 28 and sparked a coronal mass ejection (CME), a view of the aurora borealis may be possible for those in the northern parts of the U.S.

"Areas along the Canadian border will have the best chance to see the northern lights," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Samuhel said.

However, if the solar storm proves strong enough, the dazzling display may be visible as far south as Iowa and Nebraska.


Those in the Ohio Valley and Northeast will be out of luck regardless of whether the aurora develops or not due to widespread clouds, according to Samuhel.

"Clouds are expected to dissipate through the night across the Upper Midwest and northern Plains, leading to some chances to view the event," he said. "The Pacific Northwest will have the best viewing conditions due to clear skies."

Some interior western areas may have to contend with valley fog, obscuring views.

Along with the brilliant light display that may be visible to some, a flare of this magnitude could also have adverse effects on GPS, radio frequencies and cell phone and satellite reception.

"The CME is part of the sun's atmosphere that gets blasted out into space," Samuhel said. "Then it reaches Earth; it interacts with the magnetic field and triggers auroras and some communication problems."

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Solar flares create auroras when radiation from the sun reaches Earth and interacts with charged protons in the atmosphere. Effects are greater at the magnetic poles and weaker south of the Arctic or north of the Antarctic.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the results are called the aurora borealis. The result is a spectacular display of light and color for areas with clear enough views.

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