Northern Lights to 'dance' across northern Michigan sky

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Northern Lights captured during early morning hours on Aug. 3, 2016 at Douglas Lake with the light on the horizon from Mackinaw City.

Want a chance to see the Northern Lights dance across Michigan's northern skies?

Join "Aurora" hunters for the Aurora Borealis light show, known as Northern Lights, this week to see the spectacular display of colors.

The display could be visible in northern Michigan through Saturday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A category "G3" (strong) geomagnetic storm period was reported on Friday by the NOAA. There is also a G1 (minor) geomagnetic storm warning has been extended until Saturday. 

Brandon Rieck, 21, has chased the lights at least 10 times throughout the Upper Peninsula.

"I often go to the lake shore in Marquette in the U.P.," Rieck said. "When you go out and they are very active, it’s cool to see them dancing. It looks like magic.”

The lights are the result of a collision of electrically charged particles from the sun as they enter the Earth's atmosphere.

According to the Space Weather Prediction Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Earth’s magnetic field guides the electrons to form  two ovals centered at the magnetic poles. During a major geomagnetic storm, the ovals expand and at night, arcs often begin to twist and sway, just as if a wind were blowing on curtains of light.

Displays of pale green and pink are most common.  Red, yellow, blue and violet hues have been reported. 

Mike Tokarz,  a photographer from Livonia, has seen the Northern Lights three times, often unexpectedly. He'll be traveling to Harbor Springs on Friday and said out of a dozen planned trips to see the Lights, he's only seen them once. 

"First time I saw them, I didn’t plan on seeing them," said Tokarz, 20. "It was 3:30 a.m. while driving past Lake Michigan, and the second time, my family was camping ... three hours after waiting near Mackinac Bridge, we saw the lights dancing over the lake. They're super spontaneous and nearly impossible to plan to go see. I have to plan hours in advance."

Tokarz said the light display  is "surreal."

"It's something you have to see to believe," he said. "One of the neat things about them is that the colors aren't as vibrant to the eye as they are in pictures because our eyes can't pick up color very well at night." 

Dave Kook, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in White Lake Township said clouds are expected around midnight in the Pontiac area and won't travel north until later. 

"A cold front is expected to come through tonight that will bring clouds, but there will be a period of time tonight before the clouds move in that you could potentially see the lights under clear skies," said Kook. "There is also a chance of some rain tonight."

Any new chasers should travel north to an area with few  city lights. Tokarz and Rieck follow a Facebook group called Great Lakes Aurora Hunters to get an idea of when the strongest storms are near.   

Rieck said Northern LIghts seekers should “bring clothes and be ready to stick through the cold. (The display) could pop up at any moment.”