The end of the ‘polar night’ was officially a few days ago, but it’s hard to know exactly because if there’s a hill in the way you won’t see the sun above the horizon. Then there have been many days of heavy snow and clouds, so no chance of seeing the horizon at all. Today for the first time the clouds had cleared and we actually saw the sun. You don’t realise how much you’ve missed it until it comes back. I got a lift like on a warm spring day, a feeling that life had just become a lot fuller and happier.
The sun was around for maybe an hour today, and then we were back to the winter twilight. For the last month twilight has felt quite light, but now we’ve seen the real thing twilight suddenly feels rather dark.
Coming at the same time as the reappearance of the sun are the more reliably cold temperatures of winter. December was unusually warm, with the temperatures often hovering around zero and bringing the threat of melting snow layers and then ice. The higher temperatures also mean higher humidity, and lots and lots of snow. I’ve never seen so much snow. How can I indicate just how much snow there is? I’ve droned on long enough about the hours spent shovelling, and as the snow increased I ran out of adjectives to describe the increasing amounts of snow and time spent dealing with it.
It struck us yesterday that the route down to our car now looks like the entrance to a cavern. The sides of the driveway are sharply piled up with snow walls, as if the driveway has been carved deep into the snow. There is so much snow frozen to the birch trees that their branches are pulled down by the weight so they hang almost vertically.
Last night we were out looking for the aurora. There had been one of the strongest predictions of a good show we’ve ever seen, and the colder temperatures meant clear skies. An event on the sun’s surface was predicted to result in solar storming at a level that might even be seen in the UK. We had good warning for it – at least a day ahead – and when reports from Colorado said the storming had been delayed we cheered, because that meant it would coincide with the darkest hours here.
I had instructed our guests to look at the Kiruna sky camera, which wasn’t working, so we were all relying on the magnetometer graph to indicate when the show would begin. At about 21.00 hrs we were all in the hallway putting on our boots because the coloured lines on the magnetometer had just started to leap about. We got ourselves out as fast as possible – Rolf and I heading for a new spot we wanted to try in a forest area out of town.
We were sitting in the car at the end of a narrow dark track, waiting. The sky was really clear – it hadn’t been like this for weeks. Masses of stars visible, and cold temperatures (minus 17). But no sign of the northern lights. That can happen – they do something, then disappear, and then come back later. We were in no hurry. At that temperature you have to turn the car engine on now and again to warm it up, and when you do that all the lights come on and you lose your night vision. We tried to sit in the dark as much as possible. Looking out at the snow-heavy birches under the stars was a calm experience, just waiting. Sometimes I got out the car to have a better look at the sky. Fantastic. Then I saw a falling star – large and near the horizon, like a glittering boulder hurled up out of the forest by a troll.
The northern lights didn’t appear. Colorado’s space research centre did its best, but the aurora remain elusive, unpredictable. We had great time though, just waiting.