Eclipse Mania: Weather Worries   9 comments

A spectacular composite eclipse image from 1999, by Fred Espenak.

Can you believe the eclipse is only a few weeks away?  I can’t wait!  I’m concluding my series on planning for this eclipse by tackling perhaps the most difficult thing to plan for: weather.  But it really isn’t just about weather.  It actually has more to do with psychology.  I’m doing what is unusual for me, including images from other photogs.  Click on the image to go to the source web pages.

Weather: What, me Worry?

As you talk to other eclipse enthusiasts, the subject of clouds and weather is sure to come up.  It is probably the most over-thought aspect of chasing solar eclipses.  But I can’t really blame people for worrying.  Who wants to travel and spend a lot of money getting to a spot to watch an eclipse, only to be clouded out at totality.  Weather on eclipse day is something that all of us must prepare to accept.   But even though there is no changing the weather, a bit of thought and planning beforehand might help save the day.

Monitoring weather forecasts in the days leading up to the eclipse will help you plan, but only if you have solid backup plans.  This previous post discussed backup plans in some detail.  Satellite imagery in the 24 hours leading up to totality might lead you to choose one viewing spot over another.  If a large front is moving in, you will be faced with a dilemma.  You could wake in the wee hours of the 21st and drive to escape it.  But I only recommend such drastic action if there is little doubt that the sky will be covered by clouds and only if you know you can escape the front in plenty of time.

Most of all, don’t obsess about weather before the eclipse.  I am a landscape photographer but I don’t scan weather apps. prior to a shoot, preferring to scan the sky.  I never complain about weather because photography for me is about making the most of what you’re given.  Of course eclipses are different.  Clouds can completely negate the experience.  But you still can’t change the weather.

Let’s say the forecast is for mostly cloudy skies on eclipse day.  Before you go running off trying to out-run weather, realize you’ll be spending the hours leading up to the eclipse in a less-than-ideal manner.  Will you make it somewhere in time?  Or will you be forced to pull off the road just before totality?  Will you end up driving into cloudy conditions while the place you left opens up just in time?  The best plan may be to have faith and patience in equal measure.

Will the clouds clear out in time or will they block the view? Partial phase about a half hour before the 2016 Indonesian eclipse.

Yes, the clouds cleared! Indonesia eclipse of March, 2016.

A Lesson in Patience

The 1999 total eclipse in Turkey taught me a lot about clouds and over-thinking.  We were in a perfect spot on a mountain-top in the north-central part of the country.  That eclipse happened to also be in August, and that area is similar both geographically and climatically to parts of the inter-mountain west where the upcoming eclipse will happen.  In late summer Anatolia is typically dry and hot, with afternoons that commonly see isolated clouds and thundershowers.

Clouds started appearing just before the start of the partial phase and, predictably, our group’s anxiety rose.  There ensued an argument over whether to abandon the mountain and go out onto a wide plain that lay before us to the west.  The reasoning was simple: no orographic lifting on the plain and so less chance of clouds.  Air masses get pushed up a mountainside, cooling and condensing to form clouds.

After much hand-wringing debate it was decided to split the group, with one contingent heading out onto the plain and one remaining on the mountain.  I decided to stay up on the mountain.  That was partly because my girlfriend and I were comfortable picnicking and sipping some Efes pilsen I had smuggled in.  But it was also because the most experienced eclipse-chaser in the group (an author who was about to see his 14th eclipse!) had decided to stay put.

Those lucky enough to be on the Oregon Coast will be first to see the eclipse. Enjoy!

Clouds increased as the partial phase wore on.  I was having too much fun to care, playing with kids from a nearby village and joking around with the soldiers (they let me drive an armored vehicle!).  The government had insisted on our group being protected in the remote area.  As totality approached the air suddenly cooled.   Minutes before it happened most of the clouds dissipated.  I saw for the first time how during a solar eclipse the atmosphere can change in interesting ways.  It’s more noticeable when you’re elevated, such as on a mountain.  It was a spectacular eclipse!

The moral of the story is this: don’t stress a few clouds on eclipse day.  It can only negatively influence your experience.  Yes, a storm front will do a great job of hiding the eclipse.  But as far as partly cloudy skies go, keep the faith and stay positive.  The cooling of the atmosphere just before totality could stabilize the air enough to decrease the big puffies just in time.  By the way, the group that went out onto the plain also got a clear view of the Turkey eclipse.  But it was still satisfying to be one of those who had chosen to chill out on the mountain.

Thanks for reading.  Good luck and have a wonderful eclipse experience!

The sun sets over Pacific near the island of Iwo Jima after being eclipsed at noon: July, 2009.

9 responses to “Eclipse Mania: Weather Worries

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  1. Reblogged this on mermaidcamp and commented:
    Have Patience

  2. Thank you for this. I am reblogging it!

  3. excellent shots

  4. Loved the story from the Turkish mountain top, Michael, and holding thumbs for you to experience another spectacular eclipse!

  5. Michael,
    Thank you so much for the dedication to this remarkable event. I appreciate the time and effort that went/goes into your posts.

    As for me, I joined the citizen volunteer group…Eclipse Megamovie to take images of the event for the public domain. They are still looking for volunteers.

    Today I used the polar tracker to keep my long lens (tamron 150-600mm) in the frame bracketing 9 frames per shot. I got everything but focus. I see this as a success as I had no idea what I was doing last night aligning the polar tracker to polaris and crossing my fingers. It worked as the sun stayed in the frame for over an hour. The only hiccup was my focus. 🙂

    My ultimate goal is to experience the TSE as a human being and not let all my electronics steal the show.

    Thanks again. I’ll be at the Oregon Star Party enjoying deep space during the nights and then the TSE at the end.

    No matter what the skies give us, it will still be a memorable event.


    Catherine Moreno Roberts
    • Thank you Catherine! Where are you seeing it? Is this your first? If so you’re in for a treat. But it’s very difficult to do anything but wide-angle casual photography and still enjoy the eclipse visually. Actually I think it’s near impossible. I saw one in ’09 that was almost 3 times longer than this one and it was possible but very difficult, and the images I got weren’t that great (I did a nice video though).

      It sounds like you got the polar alignment down; it’s not that difficult. Focus is indeed the difficult part with a long lens, but maybe it’s not because you are not focused at perfect infinity. It’s because regular photography gear (including most trackers sold to go onto ballheads) isn’t designed to track long lenses well enough for a good clear image. You have to be on a guided telescope mount, as with deep-field astrophotography, to get really good detail in the corona.

      If you have a good solid tripod and a heavy-duty head, and are well-balanced, you should be able to get good enough with your tracker to get nice images of the partial phase, diamond ring and maybe even prominences. That’s a great plan to be at the OSP. Are they in the Ochocos for this? Good luck and have fun!

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