A challenging Northern Lights excursion around Inari

I was in Inari for the first two weeks of January 2018 to photograph the Aurora Borealis and the lovely winter landscapes of Lapland. This year, the weather has been constantly challenging. The sources that I usually use to forecast the weather were also more unreliable than ever (if that’s possible at all!). It took a real struggle every single day to decide whether or not to start the tour with my guests. So it’s a real understatement to say that we had a very challenging Northern Lights excursion around Inari!

Decision time

On 13 January, the sky around Inari had been clear all day, despite the weather forecast (and even the “now” information) saying that it was clouded or even snowing.

The Milky Way and the Northern Lights above a wood shed
The Milky Way and the Northern Lights appear above the wood shed at my cabin in Kaamanen. This was before I left for the excursion, around 6 PM, and was “fully clouded” according to the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

How do you decide in these conditions to maintain or cancel the Aurora Borealis tour? I kept changing my mind during the entire afternoon. At some point however I had to make up my mind, and decided to go “all in”. So I travelled exceptionally to Ivalo to pick up a lovely couple from Australia. For this I had to drive one hour from my cabin in Kaamanen. It was still clear during the entire drive south to Ivalo, which made me think that for once, we would get lucky and have an easy evening. And in the worse case, I would drive back to my cabin where it was totally clear as on my picture above.

But no! Just a couple of kilometers before Ivalo, I met clouds. And they were moving northward, so towards Inari and in the direction that I had just been coming from. I picked up the guests anyway, hoping that we could drive back towards Inari faster than the clouds.

The excursion begins

Off we drove from Ivalo towards the north (i.e. Inari). We stopped halfway and it was totally clouded (where it was totally clear when I passed in the other direction just a short while earlier). No point staying there, so we continued further north. Upon arriving in Inari, the sky was suddenly clear. However, we were just outside the village, and I did not want to stay there due to the light pollution in the northern part of the sky. We quickly drove to a place I know on the other side of Inari, where there are no street lights in the north. What? It’s already almost totally clouded there already? What is going on?

My Australian guests during our challenging Northern Lights excursion around Inari
No time to wait with those clouds pouring in. Let’s take a photo before it’s too late! They have come all the way from Australia to see this, and we’re being totally fooled by the weather forecasts.

When I’m standing there, and there’s potentially big Aurora Borealis coming up, but also clouds pouring in really fast, I don’t have much time to take a decision. Do we wait and hope for a gap in the sky? Do we continue north? I called my friend Pekka who is a guide for Visit Inari and asked him where about he was himself. He was just 10-12 km north from me under very clear sky. And huge Aurora. So I told my guests: let’s hurry to the car (after a quick picture… Just in case).

The Northern Lights Excursion around Inari continues

It did not take long to reach Pekka’s location, but once we got there, it was already totally clouded and obviously Pekka was gone. So I called him again and he was again 10-12 km further north, under clear sky. So I decided to stop chasing the Aurora Borealis, and to start chasing Pekka! Finally I could see some stars even while driving! And when I looked left, I saw a huge band of Northern Lights, and stopped the car at the first safe place.

A contrasted band of Aurora near Inari
What a great reward to find such a bright and large band of Aurora in the sky!

This is what I call a proper Aurora Borealis display. I was so happy that we could find this with my Australian guests! The only thing that was bothering me was that we did not really have a clear view all around with all those trees. I knew however that we were just a couple of minutes away from a stop with a 360° view of the horizon, so we continued there.

Oh but wait… Before leaving, let’s take one more photo!

Happy guests during the Aurora excursion around Inari, with strong northern lights dancing in the sky
I do this because I love the Aurora myself… and also because I love those happy faces of my guests!

Last stop of the excursion

I did not want to drive too far because I did not want to risk missing a big outburst of Aurora. So we stayed at this new location for a while and enjoyed some extremely beautiful and long lasting Northern Lights. We even saw several light pillars every time a car or truck was driving by!

A beautiful band of Aurora stretches across the sky
As you can see, the horizon is much more open there. And as you can also see… clouds knew how to find us.
My guests from Australia enjoy the show during our challenging Aurora excursion around Inari
My guests from Australia enjoy the show during our challenging Northern Lights excursion around Inari.
A light pillar above a truck's headlamps while the Aurora dances in the sky
A light pillar above a truck’s headlamps while the Aurora Borealis dances in the sky.
A band of Northern Lights stretching in the sky right above us
The sky was still clear straight up.

It was quickly becoming clouded at our location, and being nearly 2 hours drive away from Ivalo, there was no other option than driving back. However, I was so happy to be able to show this really fine display of the Northern Lights to my guests.

Perseverance is the key when chasing the Northern Lights

I’ve said it many times in this blog, and I say it again here: without perseverance, you will never manage to beat the odds on such a challenging night. When the weather forecast is all over the place, you just try, try and try more. And usually, it works, just like it did for us that night. So will you come on a Northern Lights tour in Inari with me?

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