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Today's newsletter is 734 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: 2024 could be a banner borealis year

The northern lights above the Columbia River Gorge on May 11. Photo: Mathieu Lewis-Rolland/Getty Images

Seattle skywatchers who missed the chance to see the aurora borealis this past weekend need not despair; there may be other opportunities to catch the phenomenon sooner than you think.

Why it matters: 2024 is setting up to be potentially one of the best years for auroras in two decades, some experts say.

Driving the news: One super active sunspot, AR3664, has just rotated away from Earth but could create more auroras when it reappears in a few weeks, per the National Weather Service.

What's happening: The Sun is approaching the peak, or solar maximum, of its roughly 11-year cycle, when more sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are expected, Seattle-area astrophysicist Andy Silber told Axios.

  • Powerful CMEs move the auroras farther from the poles so they can be seen closer to the equator, he said.
  • But the coming maximum is generating even more excitement than usual because the last cycle, in 2014, was the weakest in a century, Mark Miesch, a research scientist at NOAA's Space Weather Prediction Center, told National Geographic.
  • During the solar maximum, experts expect to see more frequent episodes of auroral zone growth.

Yes, but: The Sun's cycle is not fixed and it's therefore impossible to know when the maximum will arrive, said Silber.

  • The most common prediction was that it would start in 2025, but NOAA recently updated its forecast and is now saying the Sun is expected to reach its peak in 2024 — earlier, stronger and longer-lasting than initially expected.

The big picture: Moderate to strong CMEs, or bursts of solar energy, can cause geomagnetic storms on Earth and have the potential to harm satellites, impact infrastructure and disrupt communications.

  • But we always have at least one — and more often several — days to prepare, said Silber.

Fun fact: The aurora event Friday that was seen as far south as Alabama and Texas was billed as an extreme (G4-G5) geomagnetic storm watch — the first such alert in 19 years.

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2. Road rage shootings are up in Washington

Choropleth map of U.S. states showing the average annual rate of road rage shooting incidents reported from 2014 to 2023. States in the South and Mountain West had a higher incidence rate than states in the Northeast and Great Plains. New Mexico had the highest average rate, at 2.7 incidents per million people, followed by Wisconsin and Tennessee at 1.9.
Data: The Trace via Gun Violence Archive; Map: Axios Visuals

New gun violence data shows that road rage shootings in Washington have spiked since 2014.

Why it matters: Road rage shooting incidents have skyrocketed nationally over the past decade, increasing by 450% between 2014 and 2023, according to a new analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) by The Trace.

The big picture: The findings mirror a broader increase in gun violence.

Zoom in: Shootings in cars resulting in injury or death per million people rose in Washington state from .14 in 2014 to 1.28 in 2023, The Trace analysis found.

By the numbers: The Washington State Patrol does not separate out "road rage" incidents as it isn't always possible to know the motivations behind people's interactions, officials said.

  • But the stats do show an increase in road shootings from 465 in 2018 to 807 in 2020 and 1,058 in 2022, per KOMO, and an increase in the number of weapons brandished.
  • In 2023, there were 936 reports of shots fired on the state's highways and 1,267 reports of a weapon brandished, WSP communications director Chris Loftis told Axios.
  • This year, there have been 324 situations in which shots were fired and 424 incidents of weapons brandished between Jan. 1 and May 13, he said.

Stunning stat: Nationally, the number of road rage shootings that resulted in injuries or death between 2014 and 2023 was 51%, according to the GVA data.

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3. Morning Buzz: GOATs are grand

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

🏳️‍🌈 Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe will serve as the grand marshals of this year's Seattle Pride Parade in June, marking the 50th anniversary of LGBTQ+ pride celebrations in Seattle. (KING 5)

👋🏼 Melinda French Gates is stepping down from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which she co-founded with her ex-husband Bill Gates in 2000.

  • French Gates said she'll depart with $12.5 billion earmarked for programs benefiting women and children. (Axios)

ğŸ—žï¸ Seattle Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen will step down at the end of next year after four decades of leading one of the last major local family-owned dailies in the U.S. (Seattle Times)

4. Where are we?

Photo: Christine Clarridge/Axios

This takes us to a day back then when we were rough and tumble

Before our bars were pricey and our standards not so humble

When hands were calloused, backs were strong and workers stuck together

And the city's brainiacs and bros weren't always thought the better.

Hit reply to answer if you know where we are.

🧬 Clarridge is getting over her fear of having a relative arrested through forensic genealogy and thinking about getting her DNA done.

This newsletter was edited by Rachel La Corte and copy edited by Egan Millard.