I’ve said it before: there should be no such thing as a ‘northern lights tour’ – for the simple reason that no tour company has it in their power to provide you with the northern lights.
There are night tours that combine driving snow scooters or sled dogs with the possibility of seeing aurora. These are an opportunity to try out these activities while hoping you might also get lucky and see the lights, and that’s fair enough. A couple of tours might take you for a simple meal round a camp fire and call it a northern lights tour. Again, if sitting in the dark round the camp fire is something that appeals, go for it, but remember no-one is promising you northern lights.
I understand that when you come all this way you want to maximise your chances of seeing them. However, you can’t make sure you see them, and neither can your tour company. It’s impossible to predict the appearance or non-appearance of aurora to 100% – all the technical information does is offer a prediction of how likely it is, but it’s always a game of chance.
A tour company can take you somewhere very dark and give you somewhere warm to sit while you wait a few hours, but that’s all. In fact you don’t need to be anywhere special to see northern lights – we see them in town when they appear. The only advantage in being somewhere much darker is that the aurora appear a bit brighter. Whether this justifies charging you upwards from 1250 SEK per person – when you could easily just wait outside (or better still, inside) your hotel – is a matter for debate and I leave that to your own judgement.
However, when I say it is impossible to predict the appearance of aurora with total or even partial accuracy, I am talking about the arrival of the solar rays into the earth’s atmosphere. I am not talking about weather. Because, believe it or not, you cannot see aurora through thick cloud.
When a tour company takes you out to ‘chase the northern lights’ – at a high cost, and taking up many hours of your night, just you and a vehicle and no other activities to focus on – they have two sources of information to hand, the aurora forecast and the weather forecast.
They can always claim that it’s worth going if the aurora forecast is only 5%. But if the weather forecast shows thick cloud everywhere in a driving radius of two hours, then they know you will not see northern lights. Be warned: in these circumstances most companies will not admit there is no chance of seeing aurora and they will not cancel and refund your money.
Until tourists routinely ask if the tour will be cancelled if the weather will prevent them seeing aurora, this unfair practice will continue. So we encourage you to ask your tour company, and we encourage you not to book if they say no.