Rochester (New York)
I'm planning European trip during Christmas break and am considering taking an excursion from Oslo to Tromso to see the Northern Lights. I know this is dependent on how clear the sky is that night, but what are the realistic chances of being able to see the northern lights during a two night stay? Is it worth the extra cost/hassle?
The chances are extremely low if you are thinking of seeing the Northern Lights from the city, but quite high if you know where to go on a nightly basis.
I've personally done more than 30 Northern Lights chases myself and have a 85% success rate of seeing the Northern Lights. Your best bet is to (1) stay for at least a week in Tromso, and (2) join a good tour operator who relies on science to find the best viewing spots each night. The great tour operators will take you even to Finland or Sweden within the same night to see the Northern Lights if that's where the chances are highest.
Renting a car to go Northern Lights hunting is also an option, but one I would not recommend as the weather condition around Tromsø is very volatile and the chances are high that you may have to drive in snow storms and on icy roads. Besides, finding the best place for the Northern Lights in volatile weather is not easy unless you know what you're doing. You could very well be driving in the wrong direction on icy, windy mountain roads for hours.
If you're only going for two nights you'd need a fair bit of luck on your side. It can snow a lot in Tromso around that time, and if it's snowing hard you won't see anything.
However, Tromso is statistically one of the best places to see the aurora, so if you're going to be anywhere, then this is as good a place as any (I spent 6 months in winter further South in Voss and only saw them once).
They do have a domed planetarium in Tromso which gives you an indoor aurora experience...not quite like the real thing, but cool nonetheless.
But Tromso is a good place to visit even without the aurora, and will give you a different flavor of Norway compared to Oslo.
The Northern Lights are tricky and no guarantees in seeing them. However, the forecast for this season is exceptionally good which means they will be frequent and they will be strong. I would give it a shot, but make sure you list up something else to do as well in Tromso to guarantee a good trip whether you see the Northern Lights or not.
I see you are from New York. If you're flying Icelandair to Europe you can make an extra stop in Iceland at no extra cost (except for the stay of course, but no extra flight cost). There you also have a fairly good chance of seeing the Northern Lights and they go overboard in Christmas decorations and go mad on New Years Eve with the fireworks. Everyone can buy and use fireworks so it's an experience like nothing else. Worth considering in your itinerary :)
Tromso can be a very charming place to see Northern Lights. But it is really very hard to say what is the chance could be. If you ask anyone local, the only answer will be: it all depends on luck.
Very tricky question to answer, depending on the weather gods really. Maybe a 50-50 chance.