November 7, 2004

In the past few years, the Aurora Borealis has visible at unusually far south latitudes on several occasions. Unfortunately, I missed it the other two times it was visible here in Oklahoma. So when I began hearing reports of the aurora being visible in Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, and Nebraska early this evening - I decided to go out and take a look. With all of the lights throughout the metro area, I was going to need to find a very dark, rural area if I had any hopes of seeing it - so my plan was to view it from Lake Thunderbird east of Norman.

As I searched for a vantagepoint to view the aurora, I found myself being followed by the state parks police. He was following me closely for a while, and I feared he was going to pull me over. Sure enough, he eventually did.....apparently my tag light was out (which I was unaware of). He asked if I was a storm chaser, then asked what my bag was for. He then went back to his car to write up my warning. When he came back to my car, he gave me my warning and asked if I had anything illegal in the car. I told him no, but I had a pretty good idea what was coming next. So he asked to search my car, patted me down for weapons after I got out, then had me sit down on the ground as he searched through my vehicle. After that he let me go. Needless to say I no longer wanted to be anywhere in that area, so I continued on my way.

Turns out Lake Thunderbird was not going to be a good place anyway, as I headed further east then north I noticed skies were even darker. As I approached McLoud, I began to notice the faint outline of cirrus clouds. Considering it was after 9pm, I thought it was strange to be seeing dark outlines of cirrus clouds unless there was a source of light behind them. Then it occurred to me that source of light was indeed the Aurora Borealis. Before long I began to make out a faint bluish green glow along the northern horizon. The glow became better defined as I continued north up towards Wellston and Carney. By the time I got to Carney, the aurora appeared as a bluish green cloud about 10 degrees above the horizon - with dark sky beneath it. Unfortunately it didn't appear bright enough to get video of, but still I was thrilled to finally see this phenomenon in person. As I headed back towards the Norman area, I could still make out the aurora all the way to the I-40/I-240 interchange. The brilliant lights of Tinker AFB quickly drowned out the aurora, and I although I tried viewing it again in Norman I never saw it again.

This event turned out to be one of the most spectacular low latitude aurora displays seen in North America. The display was especially intense in the midwestern states, with unbelieveable displays being reported (and photographed) throughout Nebraska, Illinois, and Indiana. Auroras are not commonly visible south of the Canadian border, and are generally confined to polar regions. This was however the third time the past four years the aurora was visible in Oklahoma - all three times it occurred in late October/early November.

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