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Northern Lights could be visible this week in much of Wisconsin

Forecasters are expecting a geomagnetic storm at a level of intensity that hasn't been experienced since 2005

The night sky during aurora borealis in Alaska
An active aurora borealis hovers over downtown Juneau and the Mendenhall glacier on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, in Juneau, Alaska. AP Photo/Rashah McChesney

Wisconsinites who look to the night sky this weekend may be treated to rare view of flickering, colorful light. 

Typically, you have to head far north to see the natural light show known as the aurora borealis.

But scientists say an unusual geomagnetic storm could cause the aurora to be visible as far south as Alabama and northern California.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center is on the lookout for disturbances in the Earth’s magnetosphere, as plasma and magnetic fields from the sun shoot toward the planet.

Scientists have “high confidence” that the Earth will be hit by a geomagnetic storm, potentially at a level of intensity that hasn’t been experienced since 2005, said Shawn Dahl, a forecaster with the Space Weather Prediction Center.

“We’re less certain on the timing of these events because we’re talking about something from 93 million miles away,” Dahl said in a news conference Friday morning.

The severe geomagnetic storm could cause disruptions to power grids and GPS systems, NOAA forecasters said.

But, unless they oversee satellites or utilities, most Earthlings don’t have to worry about preparing for the solar flare-ups.

“As far as what the general public should be doing, hopefully they’re not having to do anything,” Dahl said.

Tips for glimpsing the Aurora Borealis in Wisconsin

If the timing is right, the disturbances from solar wind could be visible as dancing lights in the sky in much of the country, including Wisconsin.

As of Friday afternoon, a map from the National Space Weather Prediction Center suggested the aurora could be visible in much of Wisconsin Friday night and in northern Wisconsin late Saturday.

With the exception of cloud cover expected in part of north central Wisconsin, National Weather Service Meteorologist Woody Unruh says clear skies Friday night could make it easier for Wisconsinites to glimpse the Northern Lights in most of the state.

For the best chances of seeing the aurora, Unruh advises looking north and avoiding city lights.

“If you can get to a more rural area, with minimal light pollution, that’s going to be ideal,” Unruh said.

Cell phone cameras can also help people see the light show, according to Brent Gordon of the Space Weather Prediction Center.

“Cell phones are much better than our eyes at capturing light,” Gordon said. “Just go out your back door and take a picture with a newer cell phone, and you’d be amazed at what you see in that picture versus what you see with your eyes.”