When Is The Aurora Borealis In Norway?
When is the Aurora Borealis in Norway?
It is with an air of anticipation, our fingers crossed, and a belief that we have the best luck in the world when it comes to all things weather related, that we head towards Norway in an attempt to fulfill my lifelong dream, to see the Aurora Borealis in person.
We drive into Norway from northern Finland and realise that we really have struck the jackpot by arriving in Norway on a perfect day. The best part was that we didn’t actually plan for any specific date. Whilst many said “it’s far too early in the season to see the Northern Lights in September“, other sources (the ones we chose to believe), said they could appear as early as mid-September. We have a tight window of opportunity due to our need to avoid the winter snows, which can arrive as early as October. Our motorhome has summer tyres and no chains, therefore, finding ourselves ‘stuck’ in the winter conditions must be avoided at all costs.
So we proceed into Norway leaving the doubters in our dust, hoping to prove them wrong.
What is the Aurora Borealis?
Also known as the Northern Lights, or Polar Lights, the magical Aurora Borealis are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights can, in the right circumstances, be seen above and close to the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres.
The Southern Lights are the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent to the Northern Lights and given the right conditions, these can be seen in the far south of New Zealand’s South Island. I never had the pleasure of viewing these in NZ and Norway has always been my first choice of location to experience this natural phenomenon.
Planning our Trip
The entire reason for coming to Norway is to see the Aurora Borealis. Anything and everything else would be a bonus. This amazing night-time spectacle has been on my bucket list since before bucket lists were invented. I’d seen photos of the Aurora Borealis somewhere along my life’s journey and I may have possibly seen a documentary about them, narrated by David Attenborough (who else?) at some point over the years.
Just those words the “Aurora Borealis” still puts butterflies in my tummy with excitement and anticipation. For many years I couldn’t even get my tongue around the words Aurora Borealis, let alone try to spell it. Thank goodness it was also known as The Northern Lights, which is much easier to say. Whenever someone mentioned the words Aurora Borealis I was suitably impressed, thinking they must be highly educated to be able to pronounce such complicated words. And if they could spell them, well, I was uber impressed. Here’s a little help for your pronunciation practice, should you need it. Aurora (Ah – Raw – Ah) and Borealis (Bore Ree Alice). Easy eh???
So, is it possible to see the northern lights in September in Norway?
The short answer is “not usually”.
In fact, an Australian lady I recently met on our travels in Finland scoffed at me when I mentioned we were on our way to Norway to see the lights. She informed me that she and her husband flew to Norway in February (the height of the Aurora season) on a guaranteed Northern Lights tour. They stayed there for two weeks, braved the snow and below freezing conditions, and ventured out every night on guided tours. Did she see the elusive lights? No, no, NO!
Eek, perhaps I’ve over-estimated my expectations to see these elusive creatures in the off-season!
However, we somehow tend to have the luck of the Irish when it comes to these things, and other weather-related matters.
Alan, my husband, found a free app called ‘My Aurora Forecast’, which provides excellent information on the probability of seeing an Aurora, based on a particular location. The most important factor is something called Kp.
So what is a Kp I hear you ask?
Turning to Google (because I’m not a scientist) for the official answer, here’s what I found.
“The Kp number is a system of measuring aurora strength. It goes from 0 to 9 (0 being very weak, 9 being a major geomagnetic storm with strong auroras visible).
So when looking at the aurora forecast we want to see high numbers, and the higher the better. Anything above (and including) Kp5 is classed as a geomagnetic storm.
Coming from the German words “Planetarische Kennziffer”, Kp is better known in English as the planetary index.”
I hope that bit of insight helps.
Arriving into Norway
The date is Monday 17th September 2018 and we have just driven in dark gloomy conditions from northern Finland, to reach Norway. You can imagine our delight to be bathed in sunshine as we poke our nose into Norway. It felt like we’d just shed not only northern Finland’s cold winter coat but had also left the rain and an overcast day in our wake. The autumn colours are once again stunning; the sun is shining on the still waters of the lakes, which reflect the fluffy clouds from the skies above. There is a small stirring deep inside of us that we might have some good days ahead.
The Still Water Reflects Fluffy Clouds
Stunning Autumn Colours In Norway
We check the Aurora app and are delighted to see the Kp is showing 4 for tonight! Wow, 4! that’s awesome. Not only that but the forecast cloud cover tonight is minimal. Finding a prime location is the next agenda item.
We head into the township of Tromsø where I spied a ‘Light Tour’ shop and called in to glean some information. Their Aurora hunting tours cost $1800 NOK per person including dinner cooked on an open fire and hot drinks. So we decide to keep the €189 x 2 to ourselves and ask for advice on the best places to see the lights. Knowing it was a bit cheeky we were surprised that the lovely lady happily showed us, on her enlarged wall map, exactly where she rates the best light viewing place around Tromsø. It’s about a 45-minute drive away and includes, on the way, the perfect stop to watch the autumn sunset.
So we’re off to watch the sunset first and then to find the lights (hopefully).
A Rare Perfect Norwegian Sunset
The sunset spot was near Ersfjordbotn (GPS coordinates for those wanting to follow are 69.6966, 18.6327). We found the perfect elevated rock with a view directly between the two headlands running down to the sea. Between the tips of the headlands was a small stretch of water and the sun was already sliding down towards the awaiting horizon.
A lovely Dutch couple, who have made Norway their home, already occupied our chosen rock however they were happy to share. They informed us that the sun setting on the water exactly in between the two headlands only happens two or three days per year! Then factor in that those days need to coincide with fine weather and you realise to actually see this happen is a fairly rare occurrence.
Well, someone is looking down on us and smiling because we shared this perfect sunset experience with our new Dutch friends.
The Elusive Aurora Borealis
We pulled into the parking area at Grøtfjord (69.7745, 18.5270), some 18 minutes, or 15.4 kilometres of narrow, lumpy, bumpy, windy roads later. Arriving unscathed, despite having to reverse to allow a truck to pass us at one point, we parked up and cooked dinner while waiting.
We didn’t have to wait long. Dinner wasn’t even finished being scoffed when Alan poked his head out of the motorhome and…
“THEY’RE HERE!!!! RUTH, COME OUT AND SEE, THE LIGHTS ARE HERE!”
YES, to all those non-believers, WE SAW THE AURORA BOREALIS IN SEPTEMBER IN NORWAY! WOOHOO!
My heart jumps into my throat and I hold back tears of joy. I can’t believe I am here, in Norway, seeing the most amazing scene right before my very eyes. I’ve waited my whole life for this moment and I watch stunned in awe. If I was to think back as a child, seeing the Aurora Borealis in Norway – well, words just don’t even start to convey what I’m feeling at this point in time.
To my delight the lights danced mystically around the sky for hours, swaying backwards and forwards, changing colour from light green to darker green, one moment they are streaking upwards, the next they are moving horizontally and low across the sky. They would fade, then strengthen and swirl around once again. It was difficult to stop watching in case something spectacular was about to show itself, and it never disappointed. The night sky was alive and here we are in Norway watching, transfixed by this phenomenon.
Alan had his camera and tripod out immediately and through trial and error found the right settings to get some great shots of the action going on upstairs. My iPhone could not even start to compete with a good quality camera in capturing Mother Nature at her best.
We continued to stand outside, in the cold 2-degree temperatures, all rugged up, our eyes peeled skyward and mesmerised for hours by this exhibition. The cold seemed to be secondary to our excitement until we suddenly realise we can’t feel our toes anymore.
Upon reading this, it may seem quite normal that someone can just turn up in Norway and see the lights. However, there are three things that must coincide for a good viewing experience. The first is a reasonably high Kp number, preferably 4 or above (the further you are from the poles, the higher the Kp needs to be), the second is a clear night with minimal clouds, and thirdly, darkness, which means sometime around the winter months and away from light pollution as well as late in the evening. Tonight we were in luck and it was probably a one in a hundred coincidence that it happened for us. Oh and did I tell you, it’s September! Lol.
Aurora in Finland
Not to rub it in or anything, but we were actually treated to a short sneak preview three nights earlier (Friday 14th September) in Finland! We couldn’t believe our luck then either.
It was 11.30pm and we were tucked up nice and warm in bed when Alan announces the Aurora app suggested a 33% chance of seeing the Aurora NOW with a Kp score of 4. Sceptical and not understanding what a Kp of 4 really meant back then, we climbed out of bed, clad ourselves in multiple warm layers of clothing and braved the low single digit temperatures outside. We looked skyward and couldn’t believe what was right in front of our eyes, the Aurora Borealis, here now, in bright green colours, bopping across the entire sky for our viewing pleasure. Wow, wow, wow was all that come out of my mouth.
Mesmerised by the beauty of Mother Nature I was leaping out of my skin with joy. The butterflies in my tummy had taken flight and I was jumping around with them. This was real, this was the actual Aurora Borealis and I am here, in the flesh watching this show. I needed to pinch myself. Being here, watching the magic unfold before my very eyes is everything and more than I expected and hoped for. This experience heightens every sensory element of ones being. You feel your feet firmly planted on the soil of this safe and inviting foreign country and feel privileged to be here, you look skyward while Mother Nature is inviting you to her most rehearsed show on earth, your body tingles with joy and you hope with every fibre of your being that it lasts and lasts while you drink in her glory. It is one of those things that you must just experience in person yourself. Oh, how fortunate am I?
What’s more is I am in Rovaniemi, Finland, watching this for the first time. We hadn’t even reached Norway and I had no expectation of seeing the Auroras on this particular evening, but here they were, the Auroras eager to show off and eager to be seen by us. WHAT A TREAT!
The display of dancing lights however only lasted for a few minutes before fading away. Half an hour later a second fainter aurora appeared, which showed up well on the camera but was less obvious to the naked eye.
Therefore we were very thankful for the longer display of stunning lights as showed to us in Norway, in September. Plus thankful that Alan had time to experiment with his camera settings.
So, when can you see the Aurora Borealis in Norway? Well, the official word, according to me, is that the Aurora Borealis CAN, in fact, be seen in September and not only in Norway. Finland can also provide a lovely display.
However, if you want the best chance to see this magical show the main season to view the Aurora Borealis in Norway is from October to March.
So don’t wait any longer, elevate the Aurora Borealis on your bucket list, and make it a priority to book your trip up here to experience this sensational spectacular for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.