British Columbia·Photos

Rare light pillars, northern lights brighten up night skies in northern B.C.

Weather watchers have been treated to some beautiful sights in the night skies as extreme cold settles in across British Columbia's Interior and north.

Weather watchers treated to beautiful sights as extreme cold settles in

Northern lights in Fort Nelson, B.C., on Feb. 6, 2021. The community, in B.C.'s far northeast, hosts an annual northern lights festival that was put on hold this year due to COVID-19. (Brenda Enax)

Weather watchers have been treated to some beautiful sights in the night skies as extreme cold settles in across British Columbia's Interior and north.

On Saturday night, people from Prince George to Fort Nelson were treated to a display of the northern lights dancing across the skies. The phenomenon was also visible to people in Yukon.

And on Sunday evening, some residents of the Millar Addition in Prince George spotted rare "ice pillars" shooting up into the sky.

Ice pillars occur when ice crystals trapped low in the atmosphere reflect light sources low on the horizon, explained University of Northern British Columbia meteorologist Peter Jackson.

Sheila Germann spotted light pillars shooting up into the sky from her home in the Millar Addition in Prince George, B.C., on Feb. 7, 2021. (Sheila Germann)

"The light could come originally from a city light, or from the rising or setting sun, too," he said.

The conditions necessary to create the pillars only occur rarely, when the temperature and humidity are exactly right to create thin, six-sided crystals that slowly fall toward the earth, reflecting the light off of each other as they do.

On Sunday, these crystals were able to reflect lights from both the city's downtown core and nearby mills.

While people sometimes mistake light pillars for northern lights, Jackson said they are completely unrelated.

"[Northern lights] are caused by interaction between particles from the sun, or "solar wind" and Earth's magnetic field," he said. "This occurs much higher in the atmosphere [than light pillars]."

Even without northern lights or light pillars, residents of Prince George have noticed bright night skies in recent weeks.

Jackson said that's because low clouds with a high water content have been sitting over the city, reflecting light from homes and businesses in a way that makes it appear as if the light is coming from the sky.

Jon Campbell captured these light pillars in his Prince George, B.C., negihbourhood on Feb. 7, 2021. Light pillars occur when ice crystals form in the atmosphere and reflect low-level lights, such as street lights or sunset, upwards. (Jon Campbell)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in unceded Lheidli T'enneh territory in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca. You can also send encrypted messages using Signal to 250.552.2058.

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