The convenient microclimate of South-East Senja: Northern Norway is known for its unforgiving winters, oceanic storms and untamed equinoxes. Nonetheless there is a place where the weather is consistently better than others: South-East Senja.
Aurora watching requires clear skies. A few clouds are not an issue and we generally say that as long as there are gaps, you can see the lights. However, like many polar regions, Northern Norway’s winters can be quite harsh. The country is at the confluence of two main air currents: lukewarm and humid versus cold and dry.
The former is called the Norwegian stream. It is the tail end of the oceanic current originated in the Gulf of Mexico (e.g. the Gulf Stream). On its north-eastbound journey it collects warmth and humidity from the Atlantic Ocean. When it reaches the coast of Norway it has significantly cooled down and the condensation of the mass of air gives abundant precipitations. When it arrives on Senja island it manifests itself in the form of a stronger south-west dominant wind delivering lots of rain and lower clouds.
The latter is called Polar Vortex. It’s essentially cold and dry air coming from the North Pole or Siberia. It usually brings sheer cold in the winter time with up to -30-40°C.
Typical winter storm created by the shock between the two currents.
The Gulf stream can bring generalized storms throughout the winter and it affects the whole country no matter what. Also when the two air masses meet each other we usually get massive snow storms which can create winter wonderlands when they let up. Nevertheless in between those periods we do have calmer weather. When that happens, ‘Senja magic’ operates…
Map model showing how the Senja microclimate forms. The red areas are higher elevation zones. The blue circle is the plain trough around Senja and Bardufoss. ©GoogleMaps
There exists a trough surrounded by high mountains in the Troms region. This trough extends up to Eastern Senja (especially South-East where the Observatory is located), the Finnsnes peninsula and towards Sørreisa – Bardufoss. It is mainly constituted of lower and flatter hills close to the fjords. Believe it or not this difference in altitude creates more air pressure in the trough and allows clouds to dissipate often, generally at the end of the afternoon and towards the night. There is a rather quite high ridge of mountains on the outer side of Senja, which continues around Tromsø in the North and Lofoten in the South. It acts as a shield and blocks a lot of the humid influence from the South-West. Clouds often cling to those high summits making aurora visibility rather poor in the fjords. If you stay around Eastern Senja you will have more chance of finding clear skies and seeing the Aurora!
Photo taken from the Observatory showing clouds all around and clear skies above it.
The convenient microclimate – Aurora Borealis Observatory
This microclimate is the reason why we have built the observatory there. Of course when storms are too powerful we still have bad weather alright. There is literally nothing we can do. In total honesty the 2018-2019 has been one of the most terrible to date weather wise. However even then our guests saw the aurora way more than people in Tromsø or Lofoten have. As a matter of fact more than a lot of other locations around the world. The sky usually tends to clear up just in time to gaze upon the aurora explosions! More than 9 guests out of 10 saw the aurora this year and many were treated to fantastic colorful shows. And it’s mostly due to the Senja microclimate! One more reason to book at the observatory for your next aurora adventure!