A Minor Magnetic Storm

The NOAA website predicted a “minor magnetic storm” for August 30 and 31.  As the weekend progressed the predictions of magnetic activity became more intense and prolonged, into the first days of September.  And the clincher, the weather in Sitka was clear and warm with a new moon.  And the aurora was predicted for relatively early in the evening. (before midnight)

On August 30 I was driving toward the ferry terminal and could see the aurora even though I had my high beams on.  When I got to the turnout before the terminal I realized that I was watching clouds, which, since there was no moon, were backlit by the aurora.  I set up my tripod and got a nice shot of the clouds, the aurora behind and the big dipper above.

Back lit clouds near the ferry terminal.

The next day Sitka was having a huge block party, Rock the Dock.  As the party broke up at around 11 dancers could see the Aurora over St. Peter’s by the Sea church.  If you could see the aurora from downtown, with all the lights in the harbor, imagine what it would be like where it was darker.  People headed in three different directions.  I went in all three.

I started heading out to Silver Bay to see what was there.  I could see the aurora in the notch between the peaks but realized that I would have a better angle out the other side of the road so I drove north.

On Halibut Point Road I could see spikes of aurora shooting into the air and decided that rather than go to Starrigavan I would head up Harbor Mountain.  Harbor Mountain roClouad is one lane with turnouts and there was a traffic jam.  Any turnout with a clear view to the north had cars, families with kids wrapped in blankets, occasional tripods set up for cameras.  Everyone was out looking at, what for some, was the best aurora they had ever seen.  The next day at the Backdoor Café a customer from Fairbanks conceded that this was a good display, even by Fairbanks standards.  Cars met on the road, one backing up, in the dark, to a turnout which already had a car parked, to allow the other to pass.  I pulled out at a turnout, the last car to fit, where I had set up before.  I had a view down to the ocean passages and up to the big dipper.  I took out my tripod and started taking pictures.  There is a switchback just below with room to park cars and folks parked there and climbed up.  I stayed a little while and decided to leave for Starrigaven so I headed up the mountain to a turnaround where I knew there was no view.  At one bump in the road my left headlight went out.  I turned and waited for another car so I could follow it down.  This was all before midnight.

When I got to the main road I headed out to Starrigavan.  The parking lot at Old Sitka was full, one slot left.  I slipped into it, took my tripod and headed to the Starrigavan Creek bridge.  There were a lot of others out, but the aurora had calmed considerably.  I took a few shots of the waning green glow.  People started to go home and, while the aurora forecast told me that there could be another flare up, I headed home on a fine warm end of summer evening. 

Happy Labor Day.

Sitka is in Southeast Alaska at 57 degrees North latitude.

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