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Utah could see northern lights this weekend

But a significant storm may obscure the view.

(Scott McClurg | The Lawrence Journal-World via AP) In this Nov. 8, 2004, file photo, the aurora borealis lights up the sky northwest of Lawrence, Kan. The phenomenon, also called northern lights, occurs when electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth's atmosphere.

There’s a chance Utahns may be able to spot the northern lights Friday, provided the significant winter storm expected this weekend doesn’t make for too much cloud cover.

According to a forecast from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, auroral activity will be high across North America on Friday. The aurora borealis will be overhead across Canada, Alaska and the northern tier of the lower 48 states, from Portland, Oregon, to New York City.

Utahns will have to look north to see the lights. If conditions are clear, the aurora will be visible low on the horizon in northern and central Utah, but not the southernmost part of the state.

The aurora is often most active from about midnight to sunrise, according to the institute. Specifically, the first three or four hours after midnight tend to be best for viewing. So early Friday, from about midnight to 4 a.m., would be a prime time to keep an eye out.

(University of Alaska Fairbanks) The Geophysical Institute is forecasting high auroral activity in North America on Friday night.

The problem is the weekend storm, which is expected to bring clouds and snow to northern Utah starting Friday. Heavy accumulations are expected in the mountains, Wasatch Back and the benches along the Wasatch Front, according to the National Weather Service.

In the Salt Lake City area, there’s an 80% chance of snow Friday and Friday night, as well as Saturday and Saturday night, followed by a 70% chance on Sunday. About 3-7 inches could accumulate between Friday and Saturday, with up to 5-9 inches possible Saturday night.