I am often asked how often it is possible to see the Aurora. My answer is that on a clear night, it is almost always possible to catch at least a glimpse of the northern lights. And with a bit of luck like I had during the first week of March, it is even possible to have a 100% success rate and 6 nights with great Aurora around Inari in Finnish Lapland!
Night #1 – 28 February – towards Utsjoki
I landed in the middle of the afternoon at the Ivalo airport under a gorgeous clear and sunny weather. The forecast though was unfortunately not promising for this location. This was a pity as I don’t like to drive long distances on the night that I arrive. However, the Aurora forecast was quite strong. So on this first night, off I went in the direction of Utsjoki!
That first night, I was staying at my friend’s house in Ivalo, so I took the E75 towards the north. The road passes through Inari, Kaamanen (where I would stay starting the next night), and then through the Kevo reserve all the way to Utsjoki. From previous Aurora chasing experiences, I knew a couple of great parking areas along this road. I was aiming for the first one where the weather should be clear. Lucky me, after a nearly 1,5 hour drive, I made it there, and there were so many stars in the sky. The Aurora was already displaying a broad band quite high above me, and very soon started developing nice structures. I took a first photo above the frozen lake that is bordering the road at this place.
Not even 45 minutes later, the Aurora was dancing straight above the road, so I took the unavoidable “Aurora above the road” shot.
After staying at this location for another 45 minutes, the Aurora was still dancing in the sky but I wanted to take pictures in another environment… So I continued further north, until I actually arrived all the way in Utsjoki!
I stayed around Utsjoki until about half past midnight, and decided to drive “home” to Ivalo when I realised that it would take me more than 2 hours to get there…
Night #2 – 1 March – Utsjoki again
During the day, I moved to my friend’s cabin in Kaamanen, some 25 km north of Inari. Kaamanen is located at an ideal position, at the crossing of many roads, allowing me to start my chases much easier (not mentioning coming back home much faster at the end of the night!). That day, the Aurora forecast was the strongest of the week. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was the worse! There would be an opening in the north, along the Finland-Norway border, so off I went again… towards Utsjoki!
The Aurora forecast was right that day, and as soon as I found myself under the clear sky, some greenish movement was already visible! The sky wasn’t even dark yet, and stars were barely visible.
It did not take long before strong northern lights started dancing, still before complete darkness.
I stayed for a while on that hill, with nice Aurora all around me, but clouds started pouring in from the north. This was not at all in the forecast. North was supposed to be the opposite: clear! This was the reason why I stood over there and drove nearly an hour to reach that point. At this time, I was just wondering why does this happen to me on the night when the strongest Aurora are supposed to happen? I drove down the hill, and heard from a friend that clouds had not yet completely reached her position 10 km south from me, so I quickly drove there. I arrived just on time for some fast Aurora action. This was really nice to the naked eye, but the clouds made it much less photogenic.
After a few minutes, no stars were visible here anymore at all. Time to drive home.
Night #3 – 2 March – Inari & Kettukoski bridge
For my 3rd day in Lapland, I had again no time to rest. The day itself was so beautiful and sunny that I spent the entire afternoon outside taking pictures near the village of Inari. The weather forecast promised clear skies throughout the night, excellent to take pictures of Aurora around Inari. So I was aiming for one of my favorite places to shoot the Aurora: the Kettukoski bridge with usually open water around it.
Again, long before complete darkness, Aurora was already visible in the northern sky. This felt like a good sign for nice Aurora in the night to come!
I was right. It did not take long before some amazing northern lights filled the entire sky. They kept on dancing for several hours above the bridge.
And then something incredible happened. The Aurora grew fast in intensity, and a very bright spiral started forming. I barely had time to realise what was going on, before the sky exploded in green, pink and even some orange tints! It was one of the first times that I saw pink with such intensity.
As you can see, some clouds started bothering me. But after seeing what I saw, I had no regrets starting to drive home. And lucky me, there was only clear sky at home. But this meant again no early sleep for me…
Night #4 – 3 March – Ivalo & Kaamanen
You would think that after 3 late nights of Aurora chasing and photography, I would take a break and finally go to sleep. But I just could not do this because the Aurora forecast remained extremely high. And what a night this was! The Aurora was dancing high in the sky all night long. When I write all night long, I actually mean: from sunset to sunrise. I will keep the description of that night short, because I already dedicated a whole blog post to it.
I don’t remember when was the last time that I went to bed around 6 AM… Maybe during my studies at university more than 15 years ago!
Night #5 – 4 March – No luck in Nellim, back to Ivalo
I had already been doing so well with 4 out of 4 nights under the northern lights. I could not stop there with only 2 nights to go before flying home. That day, the weather forecast was extremely challenging. It barely showed any clear skies anywhere. The best chance would be around Nellim, far to the east near the Russian border. This is approximately a 2 hour drive from Kaamanen, but of course, that’s never stopping me. On the road to Nellim, the sky was maybe 75% clear, but there was no sign at all of Aurora. What a disappointment! I waited, and waited, and waited some more, during which time clouds started obstructing the sky too much. Totally exhausted by the previous night, I decided to call this a night and start driving back home with a huge feeling of disappointment.
Until along the shore of Ukonjärvi near Ivalo, I decided to stop just to take a look at the clouds and see if anything could improve. What a great idea this was! Just when I stopped, the clouds suddenly opened up, and strong Aurora started dancing there!
Sometimes, everything comes down to luck, and I was so happy about this gorgeous display! So the 5th night was saved. Somewhere further along the road, Aurora started dancing again. No matter how tired I was, I stopped again for a last photo.
When I arrived home in Kaamanen, the sky had gotten totally clear, against any forecast. I just had to continue shooting.
Night #6 – 5 March – my favorite place, Kettukoski bridge
This would be my last night in Lapland during this Aurora season. It meant that the next chance to see the Aurora again wouldn’t be before September. I had to see the northern lights there one last time, to make it a 100% success rate on this single trip. The weather was again challenging, with only possibilities of small areas of clear sky in the far west of the area. This is why I decided to drive to the Kettukoski bridge: this time not because it is one of my favorite places, but truly because the weather forecast looked good there. It all started quite well there, with Aurora dancing in the less-clouded part of the sky, and this despite the moon that had grown quite bright compared to the beginning of my trip.
I was not so satisfied though with so many clouds, especially on a night with a bright moon lighting them up so much. I started thinking that I should drive further on that road, but did not have time to finish my thoughts. Some of the fastest moving, brightest and most pink Aurora that I have ever seen exploded in the sky behind me! I was very badly positioned for this, and it all went so fast that there was no time whatsoever to think about composition. So I just pointed the camera towards the northern lights and took a couple of pictures.
Luckily for me, it moved very fast back to above the water, and I could capture this very last shot of my trip.
Of course, I would have preferred not having any clouds at all there, but there is nothing to complain about at the end of such an extraordinary week in Lapland.
Why did we have strong northern lights every day?
Aurora around Inari are very common because of the latitude of northern Lapland. Such daily strong Aurora are of course a lot less common. But what happened then? An extremely large coronal hole in the sun’s atmosphere had been facing earth, and was pouring fast solar wind in our direction for days in a row. When this solar wind collided with the Earth’s atmosphere, it created all these intense Aurora. This is why we had continuous northern lights every day.
Disclaimer (because I feel that any future visitor to Lapland should be forewarned): this was truly an exceptional week. Unfortunately, although your chances to see Aurora are great in northern Lapland, seeing such powerful displays can never be guaranteed. However you will always be in for amazing adventures if you decide to go chasing the lights!
Conclusion – a week of chasing great Aurora around Inari
I have been successfully chasing Aurora around Inari for more than 5 years now. This first week of March 2017 was by far the most successful of them all, not only because of the 100% success rate, but also because the strength of each display was exceptional. Finding clear skies is mostly a matter of skills and perseverance in the search. Of course, seeing great Aurora is more a matter of luck and being at the right place on the right day. This leads back to the true meaning of “Aurora chaser”… we are in fact clear sky chasers! And on this note, I want to extend huge thanks to Jouni from Ivalo and Tiina from Utsjoki, with whom we exchanged information, and which immensely helped the chase!
Don’t forget to check my Aurora photography tutorial. It will give you a lot of insights on why I chose which settings to take the pictures in this blog post. And if you want to see such a wonderful show, why don’t you book a tour to chase the Aurora with me in Inari? As you can see in this article, I really give my best every night to find the Northern Lights!
I would be happy to read below your comments about this trip!