Check the live aurora forecast and weather conditions before your Northern Lights tour in Iceland.
Learn more about the Northern Lights forecast and why you should keep in mind that even when the Kp-index indicates moderate to high activity, there is no guarantee that you will witness the Northern Lights. As a natural phenomenon, nature offers no assurances! It's also worth remembering that the lights have been spotted even when the Kp-index was at 0. Check now and book your tour.
In the past, it was believed that gods and magical beings were responsible for creating the fabled Northern Lights, which would make it challenging to predict the chances of seeing them. In more modern times, science has revealed the optimal aurora conditions. The possibility of seeing the dancing night sky depends on solar wind and reactions between energy particles from the wind and Earth’s magnetic field. Today, experts can predict where and when the lights will appear – to some degree.
Arctic Adventures guides keep track of the weather, solar flares, and cloud cover to make the Northern Lights tours worthwhile and eventful for sightseers.
The colorful Aurora Borealis appear when the solar wind blows the Sun’s charged particles into the Earth’s atmosphere through the weak spots, i.e. the magnetic poles. There, protons and electrons interact with gas atoms and effuse energy and light. The playful colors of the Northern Lights depend on the type of gas particles involved.
Solar winds are streams of charged particles that come from the Sun. The Earth’s magnetic field attracts these electrons that then gather around the magnetic poles. When energy particles collide with the gasses in the Earth’s atmosphere, a glow lights up the night sky.
The result is the shining Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and the Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere. When the turbulent solar winds are particularly strong, this can cause a major outbreak of the Northern Lights.
Scientists monitor solar wind speed and use this data to create forecasts. However, a more common forecast tool is the Kp-index.
These are some of the best resources for finding out the Northern Lights forecast in Iceland. We’ve broken down the different maps and how to read their information.
NOAA’s Oval Variation, Assessment, Tracking, Intensity, and Online Nowcasting (OVATION) Map can also help you to observe the activity of the aurora in real time. It shows a 30-minute aurora forecast for the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
The map is updated daily around midnight (UTC).
It’s a good sign if you see thick areas of light yellow, orange or red on the OVATION Map. Light green color indicates a lower chance of auroral activity, while the spots in yellow, orange and red mean that chances of seeing the Northern Lights are very high.
Although there are plenty of tools with which to track aurora activity, one of the most reliable sources is the Icelandic Meteorological Office.
On this website, you can see the forecast that gauges the geomagnetic activity level (Kp-index).
Watch the scale on the right side of the page that ranges from 0 to 9, where 0 indicates that there’s very little geomagnetic activity, and 9 indicates an extreme geomagnetic storm.
The higher the activity index (Kp number), the more chances you have to witness the mesmerizing Aurora Borealis. Usually, the scale rarely ranges higher than 8, so be sure to catch sight of the dancing lights even at low Kp-index numbers.
Together with the cloud cover forecast, this map helps to detect the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
The Kp number is a system to measure aurora’s strength. The Kp-index was introduced by German scientist Julius Bartels in 1939. The “Kennziffer Planetarische,” which translates loosely as “planetary index number,” measures solar activity.
Take a look at this scale to size up your chances of seeing the Northern Lights:
0-2: Low, almost no activity. Even with such a forecast, it’s still worth heading out if the sky is clear.
2-3: Moderate activity, but there are good chances to catch a glimpse of the aurora. This is the most common forecast. Hit the road!
4-6: A big solar storm is on the way, look forward to the electrifying Northern Lights show!
7-9: Very uncommon, the sky will be on fire, and even the city’s light pollution won’t stop it.
The cloud forecast is crucial for aurora watchers as the Northern Lights shine at their best when the sky is dark and partly clear.
The map of Iceland above retrieved from the Icelandic Met Office displays the current cloud cover forecast. White color marks areas with a clear sky, whereas the areas in green are cloudy. Even if the area is in light green, your hunt can still be successful, if the aurora is active. Another option is to search for the gap in the clouds.
Note that the time zone on the map is set to UTC/GMT+0, according to local time in Iceland.
The forecast is updated around 6 p.m. (Icelandic time) daily so it’s best to keep a close eye on it before heading out on your hunt.
Be aware that the Aurora Borealis forecast in Iceland doesn’t give absolute certainty as to where and when the Northern Lights might appear, as natural phenomena are entirely out of our control.
However, here are some tips for you to consider that can increase your chances of viewing:
1. Because of the increased daylight hours, the auroral activity is most active between late August and early April.
2. It’s best to hunt down the aurora in crisp wintertime when the nights are long and the humidity levels are low, so the sky is unclouded most of the time. In Iceland, this brisk winter starts around the end of October and carries on into mid-April.
3. Make note of the night hours in Iceland:
Check the website www.timeanddate.com for accurate sunset and sunrise projections.
4. While it’s much easier to spot the northern lights in wintertime, during cusp periods like August and April you should head out to the highlands for better visibility.
5. Light pollution is the enemy of the Northern Lights! Slip away from the city’s artificial lights and dive into the Icelandic wilderness. Usually, the aurora is not visible during daylight hours. The sky should be pitch-black, so take a nap and prepare for the night’s adventure!
6. Altitude is not a big factor. Save yourself the trouble of climbing mountains and opt instead to find a viewpoint with a clear horizon and cloudless atmosphere. The distance to the auroras is from 80 km (50 miles) up to 640 km (400 miles), but sometimes auroras can be seen as high as 350 miles (600 kilometers). This is about the altitude at which the International Space Station flies!
Therefore, unless it is darker or the view is less blocked on the mountain/hill, the height is irrelevant.
7. Instead of mountains, look for flat open surfaces or slightly higher viewpoints. Those are ideal because viewers are rewarded with awesome panoramas as your goal is a clear horizon. Look for a spot where there are no high mountains or buildings that block the view.
Luckily for you, if you don’t want to deal with the trouble of following the forecasts, Arctic Adventures offers a variety of aurora-watching tours, from heading into the wilderness for the Northern Light Jeep tour to sailing out to see them on a boat cruise. Or, if you're looking for more insight into these curious lights, opt for our Northern Lights & Aurora Museum tour. Our local experts will make sure you’re in the right place, at the right time for an aurora. Our tours will save you time, the hassle and expenses of renting a car, and you’ll see and learn much more than you would on your own.
Once you’ve reached your destination, sit back, relax and get ready for the dancing lights!