Goodbye winter, hello spring!

All leaves have fallen from the trees. Fields and roads are covered by snow. Almost all water is frozen; lakes, rivers and even the Baltic Sea. Birds migrate to the South and other animals are in hibernation, sleeping for months. Days are short and the long, dark nights are sometimes lit by Northern lights. That is winter here in Oulu – for me.

Then, at some point, the river ice starts to melt. The water is getting stronger, washing away big blocks of ice. The silence is broken and from far away one can hear water rushing down rapids. After months of white everywhere, it is a powerful experience, to both ears and eyes. That’s when spring has arrived – for me.

Copyright: Thomas Kast

Ice blocks surrounded by rapids, Koitelinkoski.

Yes, spring is finally here. A few weeks back we still had about half a meter of snow. All melted away within a few days of rain and temperatures of +10C and more. Shortly after that, the ice layers of the many rivers started to break free. The strong current pushed ice blocks out of the riverbed and along narrow points, ice damns built up quickly causing floods.

Copyright: Thomas Kast

Ice block at Koitelinkoski

Last weekend a friend and I visited Koitelinkoski, a place not far from Oulu. Small islands and rapids lay here in the river Kiiminkijoki. It is always beautiful but at this time of the year, it’s a breathtaking sight. So much water everywhere and ice blocks sitting on rocks. On top of that, slow sunsets and bright nights make great light for many hours.

Copyright: Thomas Kast

Enjoying the fantastic view at Koitelinkoski

If you ever have a chance to visit Koitelinkoski, go there for a picnic and grill some sausages over an open fire. And hey, don’t forget your camera.

cameratipp

Quick tip: If you want to get photos with silky smooth water, bring your tripod. The longer your exposure time is, the smoother the water will be. Choose smallest ISO and smallest aperture possible (highest f-number), then adjust the exposure time until you’re happy with the photo.

Aurora season coming to an end

Being able to see auroras in Oulu during mid-winter depends basically on two things, clear skies and activity from the sun. In April however, there is one more challenge: it needs to be dark as well! To see Northern lights, the sun needs to be around 10° below the horizon. Today’s sunset was at 8.38pm and it took two more hours for the sky to be dark enough.

At the moment we get one additional hour of daylight every nine days (7min/day) and bright nights are not far away. To understand how quick the season will end, look at the dates and how long will be dark enough:    April 12: 5,5 hrs    April 26: 2,5 hrs    April 29: 1,3 hrs
April 30: not dark enough anymore

Copyright: Thomas Kast

First aurora of the season at Nallikari, Oulu, in August 2012

Going on the aurora hunt on weekdays starts to be challenging due to the day job. So I’m waiting for the few weekends ahead.

It really is kind of bittersweet now. While I’m looking forward to the summer and months of nonstop daylight, I’m also a bit melancholic because Lady Aurora may be hiding her colorful face from me until next autumn.

Copyright:Thomas Kast

Midnight sun at Nallikari, Oulu, June 2012

Of course, this time brings a lot of advantages with it. I’ll be able to sleep a lot more and have time to be with my family. Also I won’t be checking the internet for aurora alerts (which I do almost every night since August…). Last but not least, I’ll be taking photos of the midnight sun and I won’t have to wear my winter stuff!

Ok, that’s it for now. I really need to check if there are some Northern lights outside!

A night out

When I saw auroras for the first time I did not understand anything about it, for me it was mysterious and I couldn’t stop looking. It was pure magic. Meanwhile years have passed and I try to see as many aurora shows as possible. I hardly can imagine anything better than being outside at night, equipped only with my camera gear and some tea. Waiting all alone in a forest, an open field, on a frozen lake or on the top of a hill is very exciting, believe it or not! Once the sky turns green all those hours are worth it.

On March 15th 2013 there was a huge eruption on the sun’s surface. Two days later the solar storm hit Earth. It was a special night for me and now I’ll take you along with me.

Copyright: Thomas Kast

Dark enough – the first photo of that night

Our journey starts just past noon on March 17th. I went online to check www.spaceweather.com for any updates of when the storm would hit. To my horror it already started in the morning! One of my worst fears might become reality: The storm would last only during daylight here in Finland.

At 5 pm the storm was still strong and my fear changed into hope. I figured the best chance to see auroras would be right after dusk. Sunset was at 6.24pm which meant that I needed to be at my spot around 8pm.

I charged batteries, filled the thermos with tea and got dressed. At 6.50pm I was ready to go. On the way a friend called, so I stopped the car to have a chat. It was not completely dark yet but I opened the window, put my head outside and looked straight up. The first green was already visible! As quickly (and politely) as possible I ended the call and drove the last kilometers like a maniac.

Out of the car the skies were clear, no auroras. I needed to walk about half an hour to reach my spot. After 50 meters ‘all hell broke loose’, I can’t describe it any differently. Lots and lots of auroras appeared, bright arcs, needles in green and purple, dancing like crazy in the bluish sky! At first I couldn’t move, it was so amazing. Then I shouted out loud, singing and jumping around like a boy in a candy store.

Copyright:Thomas Kast

Overwhelming – corona opening up

It took a good while before I remembered that I actually wanted to take pictures as well! I quickly set up the tripod and camera and started taking pictures into one direction. Then I looked behind me and saw a green arc travelling right through the moon, it was so strong. Gotta take pictures of that!

At one point I realized my car was in the frame. Seeing all these great auroras above my car, I swore to myself. It could be over any minute. Anyway I took my backpack, camera & tripod and ran about hundred meters through the snow. I looked straight up and saw the most beautiful corona opening up. Got to move the camera! After that the sky calmed down while I tried to understand what I just saw.

On the path were high trees towards South, so I needed to get to my spot from where I had a good few into all direction. I walked for a while but had to stop again. The next color wave came!

Copyright: Thomas Kast

Path of light – where I walked. On the left the moon behind the trees.

Eventually I got to my spot, after almost three hours. I stayed for a long time, seeing amazing things in the sky and even drank some tea. What a wild night! When I got home and tried to sleep, all I saw were auroras dancing in my mind. No chance to sleep, yet…

That was it; a trip with me on this special night. If you want to comment or had similar experiences, I’d be happy to read from you!

Thomas

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