Best AK Aurora view?

Old Oct 23, 19, 2:48 pm
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Originally Posted by fti View Post
If you are on Fairbanks for 4 nights the stats day you have something like a 75% chance of seeing the aurora. Lows and highs of the cycle just mean lower and higher chances but even in the lower end of the cycle you can see the aurora, even quite strong too.

Have a rental car and stay outside the city if you can.
Yes, apparently I read this same info about the chances of seeing aurora. Couple of nights, I did drive around within 40 miles of city center to "chase" to no avail. The clouds were just to heavy. I particularly like the area where the pipelines are. That would have been great foreground.
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Old Oct 26, 19, 12:14 pm
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The figures I always heard were that FAI (and surrounds) have a 50% chance of seeing the aurora on any given cloudless day, whereas ANC has about a 20% chance of seeing the aurora on any given cloudless day. The key words are on any given cloudless day. (The 75% figure might be accurate overall, but if 1 out of 4 nights is cloudy, that would explain the discrepancy between our figures.)

ANC being a maritime climate and, on average, quite cloudy (and significantly more cloudy than FAI), that means that for any given length of stay, the chances of seeing aurora in ANC are quite small. In fact, in the 17 years I lived there, I could count on a couple of hands the number of times I saw the northern lights. (Part of that, too, was that even when they were reportedly out and the weather was clear, they'd often be so faint that the light pollution of the city would overwhelm them, and I eventually gave up the 2am drives to Arctic Valley or wherever to try to catch the faint whisps of green they invariably ended up being.)

While far from immune to cloud cover, Fairbanks is 300 miles from the nearest ocean and bounded by major mountain ranges to the north and south (the Brooks Range and the Alaska Range) and hills of several thousand feet to the east and west, which tends to keep things much drier there. (Fairbanks proper sits in a bowl on the edge of the Tanana River Valley and sometimes suffers from wintertime temperature inversions, but a short drive into the hills around the city addresses that.)

So given the higher percentage of clear nights in Fairbanks along with the better positioning nearly directly under the auroral oval (in other words, the aurora doesn't need to be as "strong" to be visible), Fairbanks is obviously a much better place to position yourself for aurora viewing than Anchorage. It's also better than just about anywhere else you can go and definitely better than anywhere you could fly on AS--OME and OTZ have more cloud cover than FAI (being directly on the Bering Sea) and BRW is actually too far north to be directly under the auroral oval (and also suffers from long periods of cloudy days). Somewhere like Fort Yukon might be slightly better positioned than FAI, but it's expensive to get to and lacks tourist infrastructure.

That said, weather patterns in Alaska tend to be long-ranging. We generally don't have battles between warm and cold fronts that cause convective activity and explosive thunderstorms that are swept away in a few hours. Instead, weather in Alaska comes from large low-pressure systems that slowly come from Siberia and move over the state (usually in a southeasterly direction). That means that while on average only 1 out of 4 nights might be cloudy, that 25% is often clustered together in a span of several days in a row. Then a high-pressure ridge comes along and clears away the clouds and it'll be clear for a while. If you only come to the state for a few days, the chance is not insignificant that you might run into one of those stretches of cloudy days, and relief might be several days away.

On average, the late winter is the clearest time of the aurora-viewing season. I would say February into March is probably just about the most ideal time of year to go. Just beware of the cold--here's the climate data for FAI from Wikipedia:

The cold will soak through whatever the best jacket you think you have is. On the upside, FAI has relatively little wind (indeed, Fairbanksans complain that ANC feels colder in winter because of the breeze).

Also on the upside, rental cars tend to be cheap in Alaska in the winter because no one else in their right mind is there.
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Last edited by jackal; Oct 26, 19 at 12:22 pm
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Old Oct 29, 19, 10:07 pm
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The farther north you go the better chance you have of seeing them although you can still see them as far south as Anchorage in fact I have seen them in April in Ketchikan.
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Old Nov 7, 19, 8:40 pm
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Fairbanks is definitely it...all you have to do is look at multiple nights of maps of where the sweep is to get an idea of where the middle of the belt to view it usually is. I usually go to Alaska in September, which isn't the best month for auroras, but I've had the best luck while in Fairbanks.

Last time I was there I stayed at one of the chain motels, and one night in the lobby there was an aurora hunter/tourguide getting ready to take three Koreans out to find something. So maybe it's a bit like the whale watching around Cabo in that you can improve your odds by paying a bit to go out with a professional.
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