On the night of January 20th, we experienced very calm and very cool conditions. Calm and cool are two perfect ingredients for light pillars to form. Under a high pressure system with temperatures much below freezing gives the perfect opportunity for this sight.
This phenomena happens when light is refracted by ice crystals. Light pillars need to be closer to the ground for the stream of light to show.
Most of the time, light pillars are man-made (ex: street lights). In this case, we are witnessing the vertical shine mainly from suspended ice crystals.
These are not the same as auroras mainly due to the fact auroras take up a wider range of the sky and aren't vertical. The formation of auroras is different as well. Auroras are spotted in the higher atmosphere. Light pillars form closer to the ground.
To forecast this sight can be tricky mainly due to where the ice formation will actually occur. We may have the opportunity to spot this phenomena once again tonight! Temperatures will dip down in the teens and lower 20s with calm winds.
If you spot any light pillars send them our way: firstname.lastname@example.org