How can I guarantee aurora sightings?
First of all, I admit that the title of this article is a click-bait. I want you to read this article because I believe there is quite a lot of misleading information out there. Bloomberg for example recently published an article on the subject, using big words, such as epic, dramatic and huge, and the images with the article are of great aurora floods. If you build your expectations of an aurora tour on ideas like the ones presented by Bloomberg, you risk getting quite disappointed. Getting to see epic aurora floods is not something you can plan to the smallest detail, but you can increase your chances by having a couple of things in mind while planning your tour. The key ingredients are patience and controlling your expectations.
Aurora activity and clear skies
There are two things that you need to keep in mind while hunting for the aurora. First of all you need aurora activity around 2-5 on the Kp-index. And you need clear skies. Aurora activity is very often high enough to have aurora activity, but when the index is around 2-3, what you see is most likley a green band of light on the north horizon. It is not the epic kind of aurora that you see in the epic photographs that “rule the internet.”. But still, it is a magnificient sight, and a good reminder of how small we are in the universal context. I have too often been out with clients that are not happy with what they see, simply because “all the pictures were better”.
The other big issue are clouds. In order to see the aurora, the sky must be clear. And clouds are without a doubt the biggest factor in a successful aurora hunt. There is aurora activity over Iceland most days of the year, but clear skies are a much more difficult part of the hunt.
You can not forecast the aurora activity nor the clouds with any precision more than 3 days in advance. So if you are planning your tour with 50-70 days in advance as proposed in Bloomberg’s article, there is no way you can plan the aurora sighting itself, but there are plenty other things you can, and should plan beforehand.
Imperfection is the perfect reason!
I firmly believe that the aurora hunt is a lot of fun, but expecting it to be epic all the time is at best a misleading idea. Imperfection is in fact the perfect reason for you to do a winter tour in Iceland. You can have bad weather, wind and cold. Or you could have great weather with epic scenery and easy going travelling on the Icelandic roads. The main reason you should plan your aurora tour in Iceland is that it has so much great things to see, other than the aurora.
In order for you to enhance the experience I firmly believe in having a good guide. Somone who knows the area, can easaly read into weather forecasts, can add life and history to the places you see, and tell you things that go beyond the stereotypical ideas about the country. In fact I think that the single best way to take tour tour in iceland one step closer to perfection is to hire a good guide.
Take it from the local aurora nerd: It is not the best of ideas to plan a perfect “aurora tour” but the aurora can be the perfect add-on to a great adventure in Iceland.
Here isa couple of nice daytours from Reykjavik, that include an aurora hunt, and I can recommend:
Golden Circle and Magical Nights with Icelandic Mountain Guides. The ultimate Golden Circle tour including some of the country’s best local food and a visit to a hotspring spa before heading out for an aurora hunt.
Secret Lagoon and Northern Lights with Gray Line Iceland. A relaxing and comfortable tour for you to an original and rugged geothermal bath, buffet dinner at a local restaurant in the small village of Flúðir and then an aurora hunt on the way home.