♫♫♫…A Total Eclipse of the ̶H̶e̶a̶r̶t̶ Sun…♫♫♫
2017-08-07 05:14:18.000 – Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist
While reading a science blog two years ago, I learned about the solar eclipse that would be traversing the US on August 21, 2017. As soon as I saw the date, I went to my calendar and started counting the weeks to see whether or not I would be working. Sure enough, I would be. So I added a note to my digital calendar in bold letters SOLAR ECLIPSE with three scheduled reminders so I wouldn’t forget. Come to find out, those reminders weren’t necessary as it seems like everywhere I have looked for about the last month I am constantly getting reminders – social media feeds, news feeds, science feeds, friends, nightly news, and people I know who think I study space (just to clarify, my degree in meteorology = the study of weather). With daily reminders, the date is pretty much etched in my mind at this point. And knowing that I would be working, I started to do my homework on two important factors – how to view it and what the odds of viewing it would be.
So, what are we expected to see with a solar eclipse? A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth causing a shadow to be cast on to the earth’s surface and the sun being obscured by the moon. If located dead center of the shadows path (known at the path of totality or the path of the umbra), the sun is blocked out by the moon for two minutes and 40 seconds. If not located within the path of totality (NH will not be anywhere near it this go around), the rest of us (most of North America) will be in the penumbra resulting in a partial solar eclipse. The penumbra passage lasts about three hours from start to finish. So for New Hampshire, our viewing window will be from 1 pm EDT to 4 pm EDT on August 21st. To aid in visualizing all of this, here are some animations and a video.
Or, if you want to see an animation of what it will look like if able to safely look up, head HERE and enter you zip code in the yellow box.
How do I view it? First off, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN! If the sun is viewed improperly at any time, eclipse or not, serious or severe eye damage can result. But there are a few ways to view it safely.
Method one: Eclipse Glasses. These are typically a cardboard frame with two filters on them that block out 99.9% of the suns UV. There are two types, one made of aluminized mylar and the other made of black polymer. If going this route, the glasses typically run about $2 to $8+ (although, supply and demand will likely result in price gouging at this point). Prior to purchase or use, check for any defects like holes in the material. And be aware of scams and fake/unsafe glasses out there.
Method two: Special Telescope, Binocular, or Camera Lens Filters. These attach to the front end of the viewing element and allow viewers to see a magnified image of the eclipse. If you do not have a proper filter, do not view the eclipse with a magnifying device. Think of an ant under a magnify glass, that is what can happen to your eye or your cameras sensor if not properly filtered.
Method three: Welders Glass. Welders Glass is numbered from 1 to 14. This method can be done ONLY if number 14 glass is present. And stacking lower numbers is not a safe method (so two stacked 7’s will not be safe)
Method four: Pinhole projection. This is by far the easiest method, although many will likely be disappointed since the image projected can be quite small pending on how you construct it. This is the method I remember using as a kid and likely the one I will be using this go around. The easiest is a Cereal Box Eclipse Viewer (instructions HERE).
If additional information is needed, the Perkins Observatory has put together a great page HERE and the Exploratorium has a great page HERE
And before diving into something I am more familiar with (weather), here are some great links to explore all things Eclipse related (most with webcam links in case you can’t get out and see it from your location):
As I mentioned previously, I will be at the Mount Washington Observatory when this eclipse occurs. For those of you who might be new to who we are, the Mount Washington Observatory is a mountaintop weather station. That means we are a weather observatory and not an astronomical/space observatory (we don’t even have a hobbyist telescope up here). Our Observatory has been recording weather for 85 years, so we have an excellent data set to look back on for our possibility of viewing odds. After examining this data let me say, the summit of Mount Washington, NH is the LAST place I want to be for this event. So I am not thrilled at all that I have to be on the summit during the eclipse.
Back in June, an article from the National Centers for Environmental Information popped up in my Twitter feed which had maps and stats using data from NOAA’s NCEI and the Cooperative Institutes for Climate and Satellites-North Carolina which all showed that statistically speaking, along the coast and the eastern half of the lower 48 were not ideal locations to try and view the eclipse. I kind of knew that going into the article but I know this to be especially true for the summit of Mt Washington.
The summit of Mount Washington is in the clouds (ie, fog) over 60% of the year. Additionally, storms typically funnel towards the Northeast which means that even if we are fog-free, we would have a high likelihood of clouds overhead either limiting or obscuring viewing. While it is still too early to do a reliable preliminary forecast for clouds/fog that far in the future, even if I could, I know after years of working here, any model run that far out would be complete rubbish. So rather than looking ahead, I decide to look at our past examining the most recent 30 years of weather records for August 21 between the hours of noon and 5 pm. Here are the findings:
2016 – Fog
2015 – Fog, Rain
2014 – Cloudy with Drizzle and Rain
2013 – Intermittent Fog under Partly to Mostly Cloudy skies
2012 – Intermittent Fog then Mostly Cloudy
2011 – Cloudy then Fog with Rain and Thunderstorms
2010 – Cloudy with Intermittent Fog and Rain
2009 – Fog, Rain, and Thunderstorms
2008 – Mostly Sunny becoming Sunny
2007 – Partly Sunny
2006 – Fog with Drizzle
2005 – Fog with Rain
2004 – Fog, Rain, Drizzle
2003 – Mostly cloudy becoming Mostly Sunny
2002 – Mostly Sunny becoming Partly Sunny
2001 – Intermittent Fog under Cloudy skies with Haze
2000 – Intermittent Fog under Mostly Cloudy skies
1999 – Fog with Rain
1998 – Fog
1997 – Fog with Rain
1996 – Fog with Rain
1995 – Fog then Mostly Cloudy becoming Mostly Sunny
1994 – Fog with Rain
1993 – Mostly Sunny then Fog
1992 – Intermittent Fog under Mostly Cloudy skies
1991 – Fog with Rain and Drizzle
1990 – Sunny
1989 – Fog with Rain
1988 – Fog with Snow (yes, you read that correctly, snow!)
1987 – Mostly Cloudy becoming Partly Sunny then Mostly Cloudy
1986 – Intermittent Fog under Cloudy skies
As far as satellite views, an individual I follow on Twitter put together a compilation of the past 21 years worth of images for the date. You can check that out HERE
So, the stats are certainly stacked against us being able to view it from the summit with most years seeing fog or clouds. But I am remaining optimistic and hoping for the best. If things don’t pan out this time though, our next chance will be 2024 April 8 – when the umbra passes nearly overhead. This blog has gone on long enough, so we will look at those 2024 stats at another time…
Ryan Knapp, Weather Observer/Staff Meteorologist