I recommend you click on the link above. This is the aurora borealis (or Northern Lights) forecast for Iceland. It is complicated to read. Let me simplify.
There is a general outline of Iceland (the picture with white and green). White means no cloud cover, green means a lot of cloud cover. Below that is a sliding scale of day and time. When you adjust the day and time, the "aurora forecast" on the right may change.
The Kp scale (estimated activity level) is from 0-9. The activity level is a combination of how probable and/or active the lights may be. If it's a 0, stay in bed. If it's a 2 or 3, you should probably look outside. If it's a 4+, maybe run outside and start looking up!
For most of the trip (and we've been checking since Norway), it's been at 0 aka minimum. Upon arriving in Iceland, the numbers have been creeping up slowly. And they do change quite often. Still, mostly it's been a 1 or 2, tops.
The first few days of our trip were shrouded in storms with rain and clouds. Reykjavik for two days - 0. Sauðafell Guesthouse - 1 or 2. We kept waking up in the middle of the night to look out our window.
Each day we travelled a little more north. Closer to prime viewing. On day 4 in Iceland, day 8 of our trip, we were at the Fosshotel Westfjords in Patreksfjörður.
Krista was checking the forecast hourly. To give you an idea of the weather that evening, here are pictures from our dinner table. These were taken over maybe 15 minutes.
|Oh wow, look at that cliff.|
|Where did that cliff go?|
|Oh! It's back!|
|JESUS! The sun just got CRAZY bright! And where's the dang cliff again!?|
So, like I said, Krista was checking the forecast kinda often. The sun set.
Dinner was done, we'd had a LONG day of driving and hiking. Frankly, I was ready for sleep.
Quick side note (some of this will come in handy for tomorrow's blog post some of this is a useless, but possibly cute, story). We arrived to the hotel around 5pm. I was starving. We had not planned our lunch and ended up snacking a little throughout the day. Dinner at the restaurant didn't open until 6. I begged Krista to find another restaurant in the area that was open NOW for dinner. We took a short drive (like 6 minutes) around town, found two restaurants "closed for the season" and ended up back at the hotel for "happy hour", wasting time before dinner. --- Then dinner and pictures as seen above. --- We decided to step across the street to see the sunset (gorgeous). Somewhere between the rock wall across the street and hotel reception, we heard a strange noise, like plastic was falling out of my pockets. I checked. Keys, wallet, phone, mints (a staple in my life). Everything was there. Meh. And we went up to the room (time lapse as seen above).
I wrote a blog entry for way too long and was totally ready for bed. We were in PJ's, ready to turn off the lights when Krista checked the forecast one more time. It showed a 3 and "moderate". She decided to look out the window.
Now, as you can see in the time lapse above we had a streetlight directly outside our window. Squinting beyond the light, Krista saw what looked like a small, opaque cloud...with a slightly green tint. "Uh, baby," she said, "could that be..." and with that we were throwing on every piece of clothing we owned. Waterproof pants, rain jackets, sweaters. I tucked at least two layers of clothing under my arm, grabbed my camera bag. We were like storm chasers in Twister (one of my all time favorite movies - don't judge me!)
OUT the door at 11:56pm.
We jumped in the car to drive out of town, just in case this little green cloud in the sky turned into something. We desperately wanted to get away from the "city" lights. To give you perspective, we had to drive for 3 minutes to be in the dark. On the way, we passed a car parked on the side of the road with the driver and passenger standing next to their car staring into the sky! Great sign!!
We got to a dark spot on the two lane road, found a pull off on the opposite side of the road and I turned around (at a turtle's pace) to park there, fearing that I might accidentally drive off a cliff to see some Northern Lights.
The next five minutes were a blur for me. We jumped out of the car and sure enough, IT WAS HAPPENING! Krista, who can be reserved, was damned near yelling into the wind, "WOW! WHOA! WOW!" My problem was two fold.
1) The wind was blowing a gale of freezing wind right through my body because I was CARRYING my windbreaker and
2) my camera, which, by the way, does not just automatically focus on green streaks of amazing lights spreading across the sky.
Krista told me to forget trying to take a picture and be in the moment, but I was on my way to getting hypothermia with that flipping wind. I could NOT focus on anything but my jacket. I felt like I was trying to slip one of those inflatable dancers on in the dark.
Once fully dressed and not about to freeze to death, I could settle into the moment and join the utterances of, "WOW! WHOA!!!"
There are no pictures of what we saw because you have to be a professional, or at least PREPARED.
I don't know what I expected. Maybe a huge wall of light just like a cloud rolling in, but it's not like that. The light can start white and small and turn green (or other colors, but all we got was a spectacular green). Then like someone drawing with a thick sky-marker, the line spreads across the sky. Or the light spreads like spilled milk on a table. Green expanded across the sky and TOOK OVER. At one point, everywhere we looked was covered in the lights. We were leaning on the car, looking up, just gobsmacked and feeling SO LUCKY.
The lights dimmed and disappeared after a few minutes, so we escaped into the car for a little warmth, all the while looking out every window. Then a light would show up and we'd jump out of the car, making sure to HUG the car so we wouldn't fall off a cliff (when our eyes adjusted, we realized we had like 6 feet on every possible side of the car and it wasn't a cliff, but a slope...still scary in the dark!) We also got freaked out that we might not be alone out there in the dark. There are no preditors in Iceland but there can be sheep, horses, cows...that kind of thing. At one point, I flashed my iPhone's flashlight out into the wilderness and saw no glowing eyes, so I was feeling ok (later, I learned, Krista saw sheep eyes everywhere and it freaked her out).
We were watching a new streaky batch of green, when from behind a cloud white lights turned up like a dimmer switch until a DANCING white campfire show was stealing our hearts. It faded and back to the green we looked. So strong and thick were the lights that I thought I could try the camera again. I pointed it to the sky (saw nothing), looked at the sky directly and we both saw a shooting star cross through the lights!!!!! We both nearly fell over, hooting and hollering, "DID YOU SEE THAT?!?!"
A few minutes later, it was all over. All up, I'd say we were out there for 20-30 minutes.
SHOUT OUT to KRISTA! Thank you so much for checking the forecast one last time before bed. Without that, we would have slept through that miracle.