Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – “Once-in-Lifetime Lights Seen in State”
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
In 1946, the weatherman said a common phrase we are used to hearing this time of year, “Hot. Sorry.” The last week of July in 1946 had been a scorcher. Oklahoma City had temperatures reaching 102 and 105 degrees. Tulsa had been cooler in the higher nineties, however. Relief only came in when the windows and doors were open to let the nighttime sweep in. “In northern Oklahoma, heat sufferers who sought relief out of doors last night were treated to a strong display of the Aurora Borealis - ‘Northern Lights.’
“The heavenly phenomenon seldom is seen this far south.”
The Northern Lights, or Polar Lights, is a visual display of lights resulting from disturbance of the magnetosphere caused by solar wind. This disturbance broadcasts patterns of lights, rays, and a flickering effect in the sky, usually seen over polar regions.
But this week in Sapulpa history, in 1946, Sapulpans had a rare treat waving above their heads. On July 27th, many Sapulpans viewed the Northern Lights, starting around 8:50 p.m. The special viewing lasted about 30 to 40 minutes*.
*Note: Depending on the force of the incoming solar wind, the Northern Lights can last between 10 minutes to an all-night viewing, and could be seen late at night or early in the morning.
“The strange and beautiful phenomena is seldom seen this far south. Weather stations at Fort Worth reported seeing the lights there.”
Chickasha newspaper reported that their citizens, too, observed the lights. “The exhibit is believed to be caused by a bombardment of the atmosphere rays.”
The Oklahoma City Times commented that the phenomena reached as far south as Texas, pulling back north toward New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, and New Jersey. For the third day in a row, “international radio communication was snarled…resulting from a sunspot ‘curtain.’” In some areas, radio communication was in a “‘total blackout.’”
People in our town stood amazed by the once-in-a-lifetime viewing over our state. “Persons viewing the spectacular display of colored lights described them as follows: ‘At the base arcs of light in blue, green, and reddish colors, with myriad streaks of yellow shooting upward in a scintillating display of beauty.”
This was the first reporting of the Polar Lights in the area, in recorded Sapulpa history.
However, just 40 years later, another report of Oklahomans seeing the Northern Lights above their heads, again, occurred in March 1989. “An unusually explosive solar storm lets Oklahomans glimpse a rare sky show that’s usually reserved for northerners.”
Police and radio stations throughout Oklahoma, including Broken Bow, Antlers, and Hugo, said “they received numerous calls from people who spotted the strange red glow in the sky and wondered what it was.”
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth, too, received reports of the lights. Their reports had to add how rare the event takes place. “‘If this is true, it is an extremely rare event for the southern latitudes of the U.S. In fact, it would be a quintessential, once-in-a-lifetime event.’”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, CO explained that “a solar flare on March 6 was the largest since April 1984.” They further explained that the charged particles smashed into the Earth’s magnetic field causing the geomagnetic storms.
During the Space Race development in the 1960s, many reports or tidbits about the Aurora Borealis. The Space Race era kept our eyes to the sky. Some of the little tidbits introduced were, “[the lights] occur most frequently in a belt that passes north of Norway…As many as 243 auroras have been observed in a single year over central Hudson Bay,” “[Lights] have been measured at least 600 miles above the surface of the earth,” and “‘Aurora Borealis’ in the Northern Hemisphere and ‘Aurora Australis’ in the Southern Hemisphere are known as ‘Polar Lights.’” The Soviet Union, too, also launched a satellite to study the upper layers of the earth’s atmosphere to study the Northern Lights. The European Space Research Organization, too, launched a two-year program to study the lights.
Tulsa and other Oklahoma news have reported more and more sightings in recent years. In October 2011, Tulsa stated, “The Northern Lights lit up the sky; and lasted for 10-15 minutes.” In June 2015, Oklahoma City spotted the lights in their backyard. It stated that, “the Northern Lights aren’t often seen in Oklahoma, but back in 2004, the Aurora Borealis was visible in every state except Hawai’i.”
Earlier this year, back in March, again, Oklahomans may have had a possible chance for another viewing; for the showing reached central and southern Kansas and Missouri.
To beat this summer heat, maybe we all could open the windows. You may never know when another chance to see another amazing phenomenon in our lifetime.
The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.