A northern lights tour is the best way to increase your chances to see the Aurora. In January, my Italian guests Rita and Angelo booked me 2 nights in a row for a northern lights tour in Inari in Finnish Lapland. We were in for quite some adventures!
The weather conditions
During the first two weeks of January 2018, the weather conditions in the north of Finnish Lapland were very challenging for Aurora viewings.
Almost every day was a real struggle to even decide whether I would run the tour. I was forced to cancel the tour a couple of evenings due to bad or even dangerous conditions. On the plus side, we’ve never had as much snow on the ground and trees at this time of year since I have been running those Aurora tours!
(Limited spots available)
1st Northern Lights Tour: 7 January
On this day, the weather forecast was not amazingly positive, but at least there were signs that some clearings were on their way to the Inari area. However, it had been snowing a lot the night before (about 40 centimetres in a few hours!). So, I was not sure if we would be able to drive everywhere where I wanted. Parking the car would be even harder, as the road services usually plough the parking areas last.
I decided to lead the northern lights tour anyway. I just made sure that I had the snow shovel with me in the car just in case we would need to clear a parking spot for ourselves!
That night, north was not an option, as confirmed on Whatsapp by my friend of Aurora Holidays in Utsjoki. The weather forecast and some observations reported better chances towards the south, so off we went in the direction of Kittilä.
As always, I asked my guests to keep an eye on the sky, so that we know immediately when the first stars are visible in the sky. After a short drive, I heard someone shout “I see stars”, and then it became just about finding a place to stop. Luckily, the parking spot near Solojärvi lake had been already ploughed, so it was the perfect place to settle.
As soon as we arrived, I noticed the distinguishable glow of the Aurora above the northern horizon. However, there were still many low hanging clouds, which reflected the street lights of every village or even every single house in the area.
Nevertheless, both the weather and Aurora forecast were giving us good hope for the situation to improve. It did not take long for the clouds to mostly move away, and the Aurora to get much stronger. Without waiting any longer, it was time to take a photo of my guests with the Northern Lights.
You can see that there was quite some snow there on the frozen surface of the lake.
As the night was getting colder and the Aurora activity weaker, my guests went to warm themselves up in the car. While they were doing this I stayed outside to keep an eye on the sky. You never know, the Aurora can just appear without any warning.
And it did!
So I shouted to them to hurry back to the lake, and for a few minutes, the Aurora exploded in the sky.
However, it was still early (about 10:30 PM), and of course we wanted to see more. Unfortunately, the clouds were coming back so we had to move further south, where we found totally clear sky… but sadly no Aurora anymore. We waited there for about an hour with nothing happening, except more clouds coming in. At this stage, I had to call it a night, and drove back my guests to the hotel.
2nd Northern Lights Tour: 8 January
According to the weather forecast, it was supposed to be an easy night. Clear everywhere and not much driving. The solar wind speed was also quite high, so I was hoping for a really nice night. So when I informed Rita and Angelo about this in the afternoon, they seemed very enthusiastic about going on a tour again, and so was I.
On my way to pick them up, a crazy unannounced storm suddenly happened: high winds, snow falling, snow being blown all over the place, tree branches flying around, you name it, it was not safe! How did the weather institute miss that in the forecast, well, you’d have to ask them. Luckily, the storm passed quickly, so I could pick up my guests at Hotel Kultahovi in Inari with just half an hour of delay, and we started driving north in the direction of Utsjoki.
We found clear sky, which is always a victory in itself for me. The Aurora was there and just softly dancing despite the high speed of the solar wind. Usually such conditions are sufficient to sparkle much brighter northern lights in the north of Lapland, but this time, it just did not work! The Bz value of the interplanetary magnetic field kept being positive when negative values give much better chances for Northern Lights.
So we stood there in the cold wind, waiting for the Bz to change direction. Now don’t get me wrong, I have seen pretty bright Aurora’s in northern Finnish Lapland despite a positive Bz, but that particular night, it seemed like only a negative Bz would work.
We passed time by taking lots of pictures.
Even if it was not strong, it was a really nice show to watch. Stronger moments followed weak ones, and kept us excited in anticipation of something bigger happening.
Unfortunately though, we were quite far from Inari, and some clouds started appearing. With reports and forecasts that the sky was clear in Inari, we started driving back. Against all those reports and forecasts though, upon arriving in Inari, it became 100% clouded! As much as I know that the weather forecast is not an exact science, especially in the North, I never had such consistency in the errors by the Finnish Meteorological Institute. It makes it really hard to chase Aurora when you know you can’t trust the forecast.
So I decided to drive up to my usual vantage point, to see if there would be any opening anywhere, but it was not looking so good.
We waited there for a while, but nothing was changing. There was no other choice than brining my guests back to the hotel.
Just when we entered the parking, I received a message from my friend in Rovaniemi (way too far!) asking me if I saw those amazing Auroras. No way that I could just drop my guests and not keep trying after such a message. So we drove again towards the north. After all, that’s where the forecast was the least pessimistic.
Prints and stock photos
A few stars appeared! And a few more! And finally, it became almost totally clear, and there she was, the magnificent Aurora Borealis in all her splendour.
Coincidentally, this happened when the Bz switched to a negative value… around 2 AM! When the show faded, we drove once more back to Inari, and this time, called it a night.
Time to drive home
After all this, I still had to drive back home myself, actually very near to where the previous picture was taken. I left Inari under the clouds, but met the clear sky again on my way home. I was too excited from the past hours to go to sleep, so I stayed outside and waited for something more to happen.
And it finally did… around 4 AM!
And because it never hurts to brag a little bit, such success rate to see the Aurora is a bit of my speciality!
(Limited spots available)
So if you’re visiting Inari and want to have such an experience, check out my small-scale northern lights tours.