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Northern lights: Will the Bay Area get another glimpse as aurora dims?

A small island with trees sits in calm water under a night sky with stars and aurora-like lights.
Meteor showers captured during northern lights illuminate the sky of San Francisco's North Bay as seen from China Camp Beach in San Rafael on Saturday. | Source: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images

A few lucky San Francisco Bay Area residents were treated to glimpses of the Northern Lights on Friday night, but clouds largely obscured the celestial light show Saturday—and prospects for Sunday night appear hit-or-miss as well.

“If you are in the city, you're probably out of luck,” National Weather Service meteorologist Dalton Behringer told The Standard late Sunday morning. “Last night's cloud cover is going to be very similar tonight.”  

Those clouds, coming from an onshore flow-driven marine layer, will likely blanket coastal urban areas and valleys again Sunday evening, just as they did Saturday night after some clearer conditions allowed northern lights viewing early Saturday. 

On Saturday night, the weather service posted to social media its hopes that additional solar flares could lead to another celestial show around 11 p.m. Saturday, with optimal viewing around 2 to 5 a.m. Sunday.

But dense marine-layer fog and clouds (and possibly some levels of ground-reflected light pollution) got in the way of ground-level observers' desires to partake of the wonders of the northern lights.

According to a Sunday statement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Space Weather Prediction Center, several more coronal mass ejections or eruptions of solar material were expected to arrive, ranking from severe to extreme on NOAA scales.

Sky watchers' best bet is to head uphill and look in northerly directions. Aurora borealis is caused by charged particles from the sun interacting with the Earth's magnetic field and upper atmosphere.

Higher-elevation spots like the Santa Cruz Mountains and Marin Headlands north of San Francisco may provide better opportunities after sunset.

"Anywhere above the marine layer, I suspect after sunset tonight, people would get another look at it," Behringer said.

The best viewing times are typically after 11 p.m. when skies are darkest, he said, noting a waning crescent moon due to set around 12:35 a.m. Monday shouldn't significantly hamper visibility. 

Temperatures are expected to be comfortable, with lows in the low 50s Sunday and well into the week.

George Kelly can be reached at gkelly@sfstandard.com