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Open Roads Forum  >  RVing in Canada and Alaska  >  Alaska

 > Fairbank AK -- Northern Lights ????

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EEWally

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Posted: 10/21/20 09:27am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

The Museum of the North on the U of Alaska campus is very good.


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PA12DRVR

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Posted: 10/21/20 11:49am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Interesting perspectives. Couple of things I'd offer from viewpoint and opinions of an Alaskan:

- While there's no guarantee of seeing an active aurora at any given time or location, IMNSHO, it's certainly worth a trip to try. Seeing the multicolored moving curtain (that I have seen last for 30 minutes or more at a time) is an incredible and unique experience.
- My experience indicates that there seems to be more aurora activity in the fall and early spring...but that doesn't mean a Christmas trip = "no aurora", and Christmas is a good milestone to build a trip around
- With 20 - 30 people, you'll have lots of leverage with airlines, hotels, tour operators, etc.
- IMNSHO, the scenery is much more striking in the winter: best viewed from inside a warm vehicle, building, or airplane, but very striking. If one has the interest, a flightseeing tour would be something unique to do in December.
- Fountainhead Auto Museum and UAF Museum of the North are two non-aurora activities to do. There will be dog sledding, sno-go tours, and possibly ice-fishing for the more adventurous. One can also (IIRC, haven't looked into it for a long time) take a driving tour to the Artic Circle (may not be offered in the winter).
- FWIW, not something to be undertaken lightly, but driving up the old road (Anchorage- Glennallen-Delta-Fairbanks) on a cold clear winter day is a very scenic drive and one sees a hint of Alaska that isn't usually seen from the asphalt.
- If there was schedule flexibility, combining a "see the aurora trip" with the Iditarod (Feb/March) would be doable with 2 caveats: a) that would be a 2022 trip, presumably; and b) (very much IMNSHO) the Iditarod is one of the greatest marketing efforts ever to be foisted on the public. What it is today is not what it was meant to be.

Soapbox stowed for another short while.....


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bakedalaskan1

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Posted: 10/21/20 12:47pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

You have been given some great advice by the other posters. Every major hotel in Fairbanks has an aurora wake up service. You don't have to stay up waiting for the aurora they well call you if the aurora is visible. Plan for some time at Chena Hot Springs. You will be able to book dogsled rides and snowmobile tours in Fairbanks and many of these things may be booked right at your hotel. Tourism is one of our major industries. You will find plenty to keep you busy and lots of information. Keep an eye on airline prices. I don't know how the current situation is affecting prices but in a normal year prices to Alaska triple from just before Thanksgiving until around the 6th of January. PM me any time with questions.

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Posted: 10/21/20 12:58pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

It is a well known fact that for a yet to be fully understood reason, there is an increase in auroral visibility around the equinoxes. That is the only seasonal effect on the occurrence of the aurora. Their visibility though does depend on the amount of daylight and of course the weather.
Both the equinoxes have about 12 hours of darkness, and with the autumnal equinox on average being warmer than the vernal, that's when I would go, IF the weather showed a good chance of being clear. I checked and it looks as though Sept has about 18% chance of being clear and MARCH, 25% , so not a lot in it. This is where I was looking, https://weatherspark.com/y/273/Average-W........airbanks-Alaska-United-States-Year-Round
Incidentally, not all of Alaska is great for aurora viewing, eg Kodiak is about as good as Bismark! Flip between the North American and Alaska views to see what I mean on this site !https://weatherspark.com/y/273/Average-W........airbanks-Alaska-United-States-Year-Round


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EEWally

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Posted: 10/21/20 06:43pm Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Yes, saw them in Missoula one night. They were all green but still special. Laid on the back yard lawn so it wasn't winter. We would love to see them up there.

ppine

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Posted: 10/22/20 09:08am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I have seen them in the North Cascades in late summer. It was always a surprise and a welcome sight. They were mostly green streaks and curtains of light. North of Fairbanks they come in many colors and cover the sky.

AKsilvereagle

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Posted: 10/25/20 07:45am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

jthrv wrote:

December in Fairbanks is cold, cold enough to be scary, minus 9 is not fun, it is dangerous.....


Sorry, I got to address on this misleading comment -

Temperature of minus -9 F below is not dangerous at all to us Interior Alaskans that live here....

Although with merit, it would be very well dangerous at -9 F below if one does NOT dress up for it at all and arrive dressed up in a typical Southern California attire and are willing to spend a significant amount of time outdoors with no winter gear to keep them warm.

One prime example of why -9 is not considered dangerous temperature :

School buses will not operate and pick up students in the Fairbanks area if the outside temperature reaches or exceeds -45 below F, and yes the students will wait for a school bus if the temperature is -44 F below zero regardless of the dense ice fog.

Commuting around in -40 F below temperatures in order to shop, work, and do the everyday life activities is a much common practice here when the temperatures get that cold - even during those ungodly two to three week -50 F below coldspells does not deter people from commuting around either unless one couldn't get their vehicle started.

I will absolutely stay put when the temperature reaches -60 F below and will go into survival mode stand by (especially if things ever go south with my house trailer that I live in which the outside walls start 'poppin' at -57 F and colder) - -60 F is very dangerous cold even for a running vehicle (commuting) and nothing to play with, and no matter how fully dressed up one is in quality winter gear.


For the record, I have lived in the Fairbanks area for the past 38 years now - (38 years to life) and seen actual -60 F below and colder in my tenure on three occasions.

The first 17 years of my life I was born at LA County USC hospital and raised in Hollywood, the Coachella Valley and briefly in Las Vegas, with a 3 year break 1969-1972 in South Lake Tahoe, Reno, Sparks....so yes this post is from a native Angelino.


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For a group of people, an average temperature of above freezing at night would work out much better.....


Hate to bring this up, however this would not work for Interior Alaska....

October thru late April on average, the overnight lows in the Fairbanks area are below freezing for the 6 to 7 month duration, with the exception of a warm front which brings in cloud cover, snow, or rain which also means no northern lights to observe.

In the Fairbanks area, roughly half of September - the night time temperatures do hover below the freezing mark, and in October it might be three to five days that the overnight low will be above the freezing mark which would be an Indian Summer...

So in other words, "an average temperature of above freezing at night" in the Fairbanks area does not start until late April on average (by that time will reach the 19 hours+ of twilight in a day) and can be as late as the third week of May depending on a late spring coldfront which by then will be 24 hours of twilight.


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AKsilvereagle

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Posted: 10/25/20 07:46am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I'm with Orion and PA12DRVR on this one reference to northern lights viewing in Alaska that they pointed out in their posts that I will elaborate on....

It is a crapshoot when skies will be clear anywhere in the far north to plan on arriving, however in all my years living here in the Fairbanks area - the best two months of northern lights viewing by far are : March and September

1. - March - When people in other regions personally ask me when is the best time or best chance to view the northern lights, March is the only time I recommend if they are going to invest a travel trip from abroad...

For one, March seems to always have the most clear sky days and nights out of any month of the year....and generally I would notice seeing the lights most every night in March when it is clear in this area.

For two, one would not be generally be exposed to -30 F something below temperatures at all as -20 F to -25 F below is still common lows in March....Fairbanks low temps in general during March on a clear night will average between +10 F to -20 F depending on the current coldfront or warmfront.

March is also the month of the year that the sun exposure gains the most in the Fairbanks area, almost 7 minutes each day times 31 days - which amounts to 11 to 15 hours of twilight per day which in turn still having a potential 14 to 9 hours of nightfall to still view the northern lights.....which would give a visitor the best of both nice sightseeing days and great potential clear viewing nights.

As noted, the Ice Sculpture event happens during March as a lot more events in Fairbanks take place in March rather then in December....Hopefully the Ice Sculpture event will be back up and running again.

I have only witnessed -30 F below lows for a week straight in the month of March only once in 1992, and never seen it -40 F below in March ever until 2007 when the low temps were -40 F to -44 F below for the first two and a half weeks - unbelievable !

As mentioned, the equinox months of earth also happen to be March and September and most active for season change cycle for majority of the planet, which I would guess makes sense due to increased solar activity.


2. - September - On clear nights, late August and September seems to be hit and miss with aurora activity although can be dazzling at times....quite a few times when I go stealth and leave home driving at night on my way to Tok in my camper getting a head start to Canada this time of year, I get a great northern lights show for 200 miles straight non stop and turn off my headlights when there is no oncoming traffic and really enjoy them while driving.

However there are not as many clear nights in August and September as it does tend to rain, or snow at times during September which means cloud cover and no viewing.

For the OP and the large group planning on a December trip to Fairbanks, as others have chimed in reasons why it would not be the best timeframe to do so, I will also elaborate in my perspective :

Fairbanks weather history has shown December to be moderately in the top three snowiest months during the winter the majority of time, which means not a lot of potential northern light viewing compared to March....

If there is no warm trend or snowing a lot in December, you can bet it is going to be a potential 62 day January which is going to be downright bitter cold with daytime highs in the -40's F below or perhaps colder, and it's going to prolong to a multi week coldspell that a visitor will not like - and if it happens to reach record cold temperatures of -60 F for a visitor with no end in sight when a coldspell like that would appear, everything shuts down - transportation, airports, etc.....

Although the conditions will be right for northern lights viewing, there are at times no aurora activity during these prolong coldspells in my experience this time of year....

Also to note that if one is in Fairbanks at -35 F below (particularly during -45 F below or colder), head to the foothills nearby and get out of the ice fog to view the northern lights at it's best when they are ampin'.

With less than 4 hours of sun over the horizon per day in December, daytime highs will not significantly make a difference in the Fairbanks area until late February under clear skies, as during November thru February us Interior Alaskans have to rely on cloud cover or warm trend weather fronts to get any above 0 F temperatures.

Whenever Interior Alaska starts a prolong multi week nasty coldspell, it will generally start in November, December, or January.

As noted, airfare is higher priced in December because of the holidays.

I personally would go against the advice of renting a car if one is planning to drive the 60 miles east on Chena Hot Springs Road to the resort, as it is not the nicest road to drive on during the winter, especially if one is not a seasoned winter driver let alone a visitor unfamiliar with this roadway (plus the fact if the rental car issued is not equipped with winter tires).

There are many careless drivers in a hurry thru mile 20, then traffic gets lighter from there however there are a share of DUI drivers and other accidents too because of driving too fast in prudent conditions because of the frost heaves and blind curves due to slick conditions in the higher elevations where there are warmer temperatures in the various foothills....

Take the shuttle to Chena Hot Springs Resort instead.

As for the OP, I would reconsider visiting the Fairbanks area to see the northern lights during March instead, or if December is the only option, consider Southcentral Alaska where the temperatures are much milder in the winter south of the Alaska Range, however it is a pretty good chance of potential coastal cloud cover to run into, as a short commute inland with a clear weather forecast would in my opinion have the same chance of seeing the northern lights there as Fairbanks in the month of December, plus you get a couple more daylight hours per day of sightseeing there in December without the bitter cold weather.

K_and_I

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Posted: 10/25/20 08:04am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I can't speak as to aurora activity in December, but I agree that Sept is a good month. We saw the lights 3 nights out of 5 we were there last Sept.
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ppine

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Posted: 10/25/20 09:44am Link  |  Quote  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Fairbanks in December would be hard to describe as "a vacation."
This is especially true if you are not used to the darkness and extreme low temps.

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