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How often do we see the Northern Lights?

Updated statistics at the end of the post.

Northern Lights in the northeastern part of Norway.
Northern Lights in the northeastern part of Norway.

There is always the question, "How often do you see the Northern Lights?" And it is not super easy to answer, because there are no good and available statistics to work from. Most of what we know is based on observations from different operators that do tours in a very big area or computer-generated data from different services.


Seeing the Northern lights with your eyes, or having a night out that looks good on paper are two different things - meaning computers are not always correct, and you need to be out to get the correct data.


If you could teleport between the north and the south of the county in a night you would have a very big chance of seeing the lights on a more or less daily basis, but that is not the way it works in real life. You take a chance with a starting point close to where you sleep, and then there is a healthy portion of luck, variables like the sun, magnetic field and weather, and the guide's experience. This unscientific statistic below documents Northern Lights observations made on tours that you can do out of Tromsø, or lights seen in the city (for example while sitting in a hot tub by the sea).


Some operators claim to have a success rate of more than 91%. I have also been operating on an 8 to 9 out of 10 success rate for years, but I have not made an official statistic to "prove" that that is the case - it has been more a gut feeling. It also wouldn't count the days I stayed home cause of bad weather, unsafe conditions, sick kids, social life, other assignments, etc.


These non-scientific "findings" are based on observations made by myself and others in the Tromsø area. A rather big area with an operating range of about 3 hours by car inland and about 2 hours towards the coast. At least that is the traditional range, some operators do go further, but think about how much time you would like to spend in a car when booking.


The illustration was taken from the Norwegian Center for Space Weather (NOSWE)

Since one guide can´t be out every day, making a statistic that collects data from every evening of the month means looking into the social media of different operators, checking different websites, and also looking into the blogs of some very active tour operators. It could also mean making a few phone calls.


As we are getting closer to the so-called "solar maximum" in 2025 it will be interesting to see if it is possible to see a statistical change in the number of days we see the lights. It has been a good season thus far, but like the stock market, it is not possible to predict the future.


A few explanations.

Observed Northern lights

Northern lights are either observed on tour or from other operators in the Tromsø area. This means documented with photos or seen.


No observed Northern lights

No one, as far as I have been able to find at least, has seen or taken photos of the Northern lights in the Tromsø area at the night in question. This does not necessarily mean that there haven´t been any somewhere. This is an uncertain variable in the statistics. If information is available at a later time the statistics will be updated.

Kp-index

A Kp-index of 2 or more would normally give us a theoretical chance of seeing the Northern Lights in the Tromsø area as seen in the illustration above. The city of Tromsø is situated more or less right under the northern lights oval, even Kp's under 1 means a theoretical chance if you come here. The higher the Kp, the further south and north it is possible to make an observation. A Kp between 2-4 is normal and gives us nice lights at these latitudes. A high Kp does not guarantee Northern lights.


Cancelled due to weather

Some nights are simply unsafe to travel on. Some operators will go anyway, and we still

haven´t had any serious accidents on Northern Light tours. When the National Weather Service recommends us to stay indoors we normally don´t go, but operators make their own decisions as well - based on experience and the need for income. Go with serious operators if you plan on booking, and if you are unsure contact the official tourist information in Tromsø.


Northern Lights season

The Northern Lights season lasts from around the 15th of September to the 10th of April. It is possible to observe strong lights as early as the 20th of August, and as late as the middle of April. It can be quite spectacular to get the sunset and the Northern Lights in one photo. It is not possible to see the lights from mid-April and during the summer (May - July) due to the longer days and the Midnight sun. Most operators end the season during the first week of April.


Ask below if you have any questions - or simply write us an email.



 

Northern Lights statistics for 2023/2024

The statistics are updated at the beginning of the following month.


March & April 2024. A nice ending to a busy season (28 of 37 nights)

As this is written we have already reached April 8th, and as far as I can see the last tours in the Tromsø region were done yesterday. We welcome more light, and the midnight sun in about a month. It has been a very busy season for everyone doing Northern Lights tours in the area, and a new record in regards to the number of guests visiting the Arctic. If you are planning for a trip next season and the lights are important to you - book early.


Northern Lights by the border towards Finland in the middle of March.

March and April were good months. The weather has been reasonably stable, and the beginning and the end of the period have given us some very nice lights both along the coast and further inland. There was 1 day with cancellations in the middle of the month due to bad weather.


All in all, we saw Northern lights on 72% of the tours going out of Tromsø (from September to early April) according to the data I have managed to gather from my own tours and excursions/excursion photos made public by others. 7 out of 10 evenings altogether is not bad, although a bit lower than the traditional "statistics" that say 9 out of 10! Since this is the first year we do these statistics we have no data to compare the 23/24 season with until this time next year.


Bookings for next season have already come in - next season starts from the 15th of September and bookings are open.




February 2024 - A pretty average month (21 of 29 nights).


February ended with temperatures above average and a day or two with higher temperatures than southern Europe. Some might find this pleasant, but it is not what we like for the cloud cover - and driving conditions as it tends to get slippery. It is not unusual that Tromsø gets a week with mild weather in February, but this year it feels like spring is coming early. Fighting with cloud cover has also sent many tours on longer drives than average trying to locate stars in smaller and bigger gaps - but in comparison with January, we have been able to find clear skies in the area after some work.


Northern lights outside Tromsø 28th February 24
Northern lights outside Tromsø 28th February 24

The Northern Lights themselves have not been too strong during February, but we have been able to capture some nice photos on tour, and the beginning of March has been very nice so far with a welcoming CME on the 3rd. Only a month or so left of the 23/24 season, hoping for a spectacular finish.




January 2024 - Weather-related cancellations and a month with cloudy weather (15 of 30 nights).


With a total of 8 canceled nights in January, it must be considered a month with a lot of weather. This is not uncommon as we usually get at least a few days with mild weather and poor driving conditions in combination with a high avalanche risk in the areas where we normally operate. One of the arguments why Tromsø should not get the Olympic Games in 2014 and 2018 was that both January and February can have "unstable" weather over a few days and that it might ruin the experience. The latter part of January also saw a winter storm named "Ingunn" with storm and hurricane-strength winds that stopped evening events outdoors.


Some companies will still go out on days where the chances of sliding off the road are higher than seeing the lights, and there are always discussions in the guide community. At "The Arctic Moments" we have decided to listen to the official warnings and weather service before deciding whether to go or not.


On 7 nights we have not been able to find operators that saw the lights, despite going out due to cloud conditions or low activity. This means that we have had operations on half the nights in January.


Even though there have been unlucky with the weather there have been a few nice shows this month as well, like the one early in January outside Tromsø.



Northern Lights on January 3rd 2024.



December 2023 - A bit frustrating (25 of 31 nights).


December went by with a lot of clear skies and a very good - start but ended with less northern lights activity than we hoped for. The guides get just as frustrated as the guests when there is a perfect sky and just nothing happening. Being a natural phenomenon most have an understanding that there is no guarantee, and with the green lady even on the best nights we might go home with nothing more than the smell of bonfire, a starry sky, and a beautiful beach to remember.


That meant a lot of waiting around the bonfire for most of the groups that came to Tromsø. The end of December was unusually cold for the year with temperatures in Tromsø down to minus 15 degrees Celsius, and even colder in the inland areas south of the city.


The Christmas week was also very crowded with several hundred guests in the same areas between Christmas and New Year, and a lot of big busses on the roads. My recommendation would be to get here earlier if you are after the lights, though Tromsø is a very beautiful place with all the Christmas lights and holiday moods.


A new year and new ventures awaiting guides and guests!



Northern Lights December 5th 2023
Northern Lights December 5th 2023


November 2023 - Can hardly get any better (29 of 30 nights).


November has treated us well with Northern Lights, and we only had one night where we didn´t have any positive observations for tours starting in Tromsø. There was also one night when we and a few other companies decided to cancel due to heavy winds and avalanche danger in the area - yet some of the non-local companies decided to go, and got some light that evening too.


Parts of November had very strong lights visible also in the southern parts of Norway, an event that made it to the national news. We even had some nights with visibility as far south as Germany. We have enjoyed several Corona Mass Ejections (CME´s), a few solar storms and got to hear the description "Cannibal" storm for the first time. This is when the first storm is "eaten" by the next one making a very nice light show.


All in all, November has been the best month this season. Hopefully, it continues into the busy season of December as well.


The statistics are simplified a bit from now on. Let me know in the comment section if there are any questions.




Northern Lights above trees
Northern Lights captured south of Tromsø on the very last day of November,


October 2023 (25 of 31 nights).


October has been a really good month in the Tromsø area, and operators are happy to take guests out on tour with high chances of getting a very nice experience. All in all, there were only 5 days in October where we couldn´t find any documented observations - this is most likely due to weather and/or low activity. This month I also had a look at the Kp index for all of the days, and we ended up with a Kp2+ around 70% of the days - a positive sign meaning that we see light even on days with a low Kp.


Looking at the graph below we had a success rate of roughly 80%, but only a kp2+ on around 70% of the days. This is positive since it means that we are seeing lights even on days with low activity.


October lights had a lot of colour
October lights had a lot of colour


September 2023 (15 of 30)


September is the first proper month of Northern Lights hunting every season. Normally there is a slow start around the 10th of September, and we see more and more guests by the beginning of October. It is a really nice time to be in the Arctic, with a lot of color and mostly stable weather. That said this is normally the first month of snow in the north.

September Lights with phone

In September 2023 we observed NL 50% of the nights, and the Kp-index has been 2+ 70% of the nights based on information from the National Weather Service (YR) and Spaceweather Live. There were no cancelations due to weather or unsafe conditions.


This month in 2023 has 2 more nights of observed NL compared to the same month in 2022. The season normally starts around September 10th, but it is possible to get a glimpse on good evenings with activity from late August.







 

Northern Lights statistics for 2022/2023

The NL observations in 2022/23 are solely made from my own data and a quick go-through of data from social media and blogs online. The average number of nights where the NL has been observed is 13, so about 1/3 of the possible nights in each month. April is a bit unfair to count since it only entails 10 nights where it is still dark enough for NL observations to be made. Most operators stop their tours around April 1st.



NL observations during the 2022/23 season.
NL observations during the 2022/23 season.




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