Northern Lights Forecast: Predicting the Aurora Borealis in Michigan

If you are reporting the northern lights, be sure to post on the Michigan Northern Lights Log on Absolute Michigan!


Skyfire, photo by Kevin’s Images

A lot of people end up at Michigan in Pictures every day when searching for the northern lights, and one of the biggest questions I get asked through comments and email is “When and where can I see the Northern Lights in Michigan?”

The Geophysical Institute in Alaska is one of the hotspots for information about viewing the aurora borealis aka the northern lights. In their excellent Aurora FAQ, they answer the question Can you predict when and where there will be aurora?, saying you can, but with less confidence than weather prediction. The aurora is powered by the solar wind, and strong solar winds tend to bring intense auroras.

The Institute’s Auroral Forecast Page presents data on the solar wind forecasts the intensity level of the aurora. You can then check the “Can I see the aurora?” link at the top and also their page on interpreting the aurora, where they offer this advice:

The auroral activity forecast predicts the expected location of the most active auroral forms that can be expected for the given period. Aurora viewing is also affected by a variety of other factors, such as cloud cover, moonlight, and urban light pollution, so what you see will be strongly affected by your particular location and meteorological luck.

The best time to observe aurora is near local midnight, when the most active forms often occur. More precisely, the time to shoot for is an hour or two prior to local geomagnetic midnight, and the forecast maps found here are calculated for that time. If you are a serious aurora watcher, plan to spend the night from about 9 P.M. to 3 A.M. watching for auroral action. Auroral activity tends to come in waves during an evening, which are called auroral substorms. Even during an active period, there will be lulls in which the auroral activity is subdued; however, the patient observer will often see a new burst of activity within an hour or two.

I found that selecting the North Polar view seemed to provide the best view for Michigan, and it appears to me that we need to have an activity level of 3 to see any of the lights in Lower Michigan and 2 for the Upper Peninsula. Based on today’s forecast, it appears that on December 23 we’ll have a chance to see the aurora – if anyone does, please post it here and on the Michigan Northern Lights Log over on Absolute Michigan.

You can see this photo larger and also more shots that Kevin took that night at the James C. Veen Observatory in Grand Rapids in his Astronomy set (slideshow).

For much more Michigan northern lights goodness check out the northern lights category on Michigan in Pictures and the Michigan Tech-based leading page on the northern lights, The Aurora Page. And I might as well slip in this amazing time lapse of the aurora borealis from British Columbia.

33 thoughts on “Northern Lights Forecast: Predicting the Aurora Borealis in Michigan

  1. I subscribe to the free notification service at to get early warning of possible northern lights sightings.

    From their webpage:

    “We can help you see an Aurora at your location, by providing you alerts (via your email, pager or mobile phone) with our Auroral Detection and Early Warning System (ADEC), with an alert trailored specifically to your location.

    ADEC is a FREE system which can alert you to an Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) display at your location on earth. It works by sending an email when a certain level of activity for your location has been exceeded. The email address can also be a pager or mobile phone that accepts text messages (subject to the provision of that service by your mobile provider). The system tries to give you advance notification, and will typically inform you up to 45 minutes in advance of the aurora happening.”

    It works great, if you’re awake to receive the alerts. :)


    1. send me an e-mail to alert me of the northern lights location in my area. I also travel to Gladwin Michigan often.I would really like to witness this


  2. Hi…I was thinking of taking a trip during the 3rd week of March to the Laurium, MI area just to see the lights…do you think that this is wise? It seems kind of hit or miss based on what’s going on in space…I want to see them so badly but I have limited time to be able to drive up there and stay.


  3. Hey Cherie, I think that you’d have to be pretty lucky. I have often seen the lights when I’ve gone to the UP and Canada in August, but there have been a lot of times that I haven’t. I suspect that skies aren’t very clear in March either.

    You might wait till August and get some sightseeing at Pictured Rocks or on the Keewenaw in as well. Even if you don’t see the lights, laying out on a beach at night will be an enjoyable experience!


  4. We thought we seen the norhtern lights on Feb 14th 2009 here in Sterling Heights Mi. The northwest sky was colored in teal green, blue, pink, yellowish colors. Somehting we have not seen before.
    Did anyone else nothing this this past weekend?


  5. I just moved to Northern Michigan (Torch Lake)
    I have never seen the wonders of the Aurora Borealis and I am excited to know that soon will.

    Does anyone know when it usually occures in this area?

    Many thanks!


  6. I am headed up to the UP to Gratiot lake ( northeast of the laurium area) for a few days next weekend and was hoping to see this phenomenon…. if anyone can send an email to me with anything that could help me out, that would be great. I have a feeling my cell phone will not work up there, so the text message thing may not be the most reliable source!


  7. I wouldn’t expect to see much on the UP,, aurora is more common further north, say like Alaska. But it definitely is not impossible. Since aurora is caused by solar storms of electromagnetic pulses, it might be predictable. you might want to get in touch with an astronomy group and ask if they know of recent solar flare activity. I’m in central Ohio and can recall only one really good show, it was in the summer of ’88 or ’89. About 1/3 of the north sky looked like a green shimmering curtain. Have you ever seen it for yourself?


  8. The sunspot cycle will peak in May of 2013. Sunspot activity and auroral activity have a positive correlation. As we get closer to 2013, the more geomagnetic storms we can expect. I don’t suspect we will have the aurora in the UP more than a few times a month with only faint and fleeting displays. However, keep your eyes peeled because there can always be a freak coronal mass ejection sparking auroral activity.


  9. We’re watching the northern lights right now – it’s clear and they are really starting to show up!
    In the country, in Eaton Rapids, Michigan


  10. I just so happened to step out side tonight and seen them! This is the 1st time Iv ever seen them! Kinda blurry but noticeable! I thought one really bright light looked like a Spot light and wondered if something was going on in town…. as I looked closer i counted like 20 spot light looking beams of lights coming down in a ray of almost a half circle looking into the tree lines. Then I looked up and seen a bright white aray of light in the sky! Very cool!


  11. I seen them tonight as well, in the Hamburg/Pinckney MI area. I didn’t know what they were. I’ve never seen the northern lights. I has suspected that at first, but wasn’t sure.


  12. I saw them last night too. I live in Ann Arbor. It was kind of cloudy but I could see it faintly. It was around 9:45 when I saw them yesterday. It was very cool. I saw some a couple years ago when I went for a walk but it was really cool seeing them again.


  13. Anyone know of a website that predicts the forecast? I am in Windsor, Ontario and have never seen these lights. Maybe I’m too far south, but I have family in northern MI and would love to try to make a trip to see them some time!


  14. Hi, I am wondering if anyone can tell me if the Northern Lights might be out this month or even January. I did see the lights back in 1974 and they where so beautiful..I now live in Tx but am here visiting and hoping I may get another chance to see them before I have to leave. I am in Romeo, Mi right now but willling to go further up north if need be. Anyone know this information? Or where I can look to check? Thank you


  15. I would love to receive email updates as to when would be a good time to see the lights in Michigan. It would be well worth the trip. Thanks!!!


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