Northern lights forecast for DC, MD & VA; G5 Extreme Geomagnetic Storm Watch reaches Earth

An extremely strong solar storm may make the northern lights visible to millions in the U.S. on Friday - including some near the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia regions. But those same solar flares that could bring skygazers around the DMV a glimpse of the aurora borealis could also potentially disrupt communications this weekend.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a rare Severe (G4) Geomagnetic Storm Watch beginning Friday and lasting all weekend. It was later upgraded to an Extreme (G5) Geomagnetic Storm as it reached Earth. The watch was the first of its kind issued in nearly 20 years.

According to NOAA, a large sunspot cluster has produced several moderate to strong solar flares since Wednesday.

At least five of those flares were associated with CMEs, or coronal mass ejections, which are explosions of plasma and magnetic fields from the sun’s corona. The CMEs that were spotted appear to be directed toward earth and could trigger geomagnetic storms.

READ MORE: Solar flare could disrupt communications, produce northern lights

Northern lights aurora borealis forecast for DC, MD & VA; G4 Severe Geomagnetic Storm Watch issued (NOAA)

READ MORE: Canadian photographer captures breathtaking time-lapse of aurora borealis

"Geomagnetic storms can impact infrastructure in near-Earth orbit and on Earth’s surface, potentially disrupting communications, the electric power grid, navigation, radio and satellite operations," NOAA officials said on their website. "Space Weather Prediction Center has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action." 

The rare flares seem to be associated with a sunspot that’s 16 times the diameter of Earth. In 2003, an extreme geomagnetic storm knocked out power in Sweden and damaged power transformers in South Africa.

"Geomagnetic storms can also trigger spectacular displays of aurora on Earth," officials continued. "A severe geomagnetic storm includes the potential for aurora to be seen as far south as Alabama and Northern California."

Currently, NOAA’s aurora forecast for Friday night places the southern extent of where the northern lights might be seen in our region just north of the Maryland / Pennsylvania line.

FOX 5’s Tucker Barnes says their forecast, in addition to the likelihood of rain and clouds in the area through the weekend, will lower the chances of seeing the northern lights in our region.

G5 (Extreme) Geomagnetic Storm Impact for Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia

Power systems: Widespread voltage control problems and protective system problems can occur, and some grid systems may experience complete collapse or blackouts. Transformers may experience damage.

Spacecraft operations: May experience extensive surface charging, problems with orientation, uplink/downlink and tracking satellites. The Space Weather Prediction Center] has notified the operators of these systems so they can take protective action.

Other systems: Pipeline currents can reach hundreds of amps, HF (high frequency) radio propagation may be impossible in many areas for one to two days, satellite navigation may be degraded for days, low-frequency radio navigation can be out for hours, and aurora has been seen as low as Florida and southern Texas (typically 40° geomagnetic lat.).

The Associated Press contributed to this report.