Solar cycle keeps northern lights chances in Portland high through 2026

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Higher solar activity keeps Portland’s aurora chances higher through the year 2026.

The sun goes through an 11-year cycle of activity where more sunspots, solar flares, and stronger solar winds ebb and flow. Now, through the year 2026, the sun will be near peak solar activity. That was the case Friday, May 10 when the aurora borealis was seen over much of the continental U.S. after sunset.

Northern lights seen from Sauvie Island Friday, May 11, 2024 from KOIN 6 viewer Cole Cozart
Northern lights seen from Sauvie Island Friday, May 11, 2024 from KOIN 6 viewer Cole Cozart

The sun’s solar cycle will start to come in 2027 and continue through about 2030. That’s when sunspots and solar flares will be at a minimum. “Sunspots can change continuously and may last for only a few hours to days; or even months for the more intense groups. The total number of sunspots has long been known to vary with an approximately 11-year repetition known as the solar cycle. The peak of sunspot activity is known as solar maximum and the lull is known as solar minimum,” explained by NOAA.

The chance to see the aurora over Portland won’t present itself every night, but an event like Friday’s northern lights is possible in the next few years.

<em>KOIN 6 Meteorologist Josh Cozart shares Oregon’s geomagnetic activity chart </em>
KOIN 6 Meteorologist Josh Cozart shares Oregon’s geomagnetic activity chart

In order to see the northern lights again in the Pacific Northwest, the Geomagnetic Activity over Oregon must near close to a six or seven on the (Kp) scale. That doesn’t happen often. So, the spectacular sights seen over Oregon and Washington’s skies Friday might have been a once in a lifetime event.

Copyright 2024 Nexstar Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KOIN.com.