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The Great American Eclipse of 2017 is coming, and I'll be near totality in Greenville, South Carolina, at Roper Mountain Science Center with Reed Timmer (tickets are required to get in but are sold out), We are hoping to get 360 video of the eclipse, measure changes in the weather and go live during the event at Facebook.com/AccuWeather as well as our Astronomy Page on Facebook-- and I'll be posting updates as well on my WeatherMatrix Facebook page. We are part of AccuWeather's coast-to-coast coverage of the event.
As an amateur astronomer and meteorologist, I'm pretty hyped. I've seen two eclipses in my life, neither total, so this will be a unique experience. The first was in 1984 - an "annular" eclipse in Boomer, North Carolina, (where I grew up). An annular eclipse puts the moon in the middle of the view of the sun but doesn't completely cover it, so extreme darkness is not achieved. The second was a partial solar eclipse in 1990 in Asheville, North Carolina. I remember both being an eerie experience.
If you're still confused about anything about the eclipse, here are some frequently asked questions. DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions and my own reporting; for official AccuWeather information, on your desktop computer, visit http://www.accuweather.com/eclipse for our latest stories and videos.
- What day/time is the eclipse? Aug. 21, 2017, from about 1 to 4 p.m. depending on where you are (earlier in the West); the path of totality is shown on the map above; at least a partial eclipse will be available in almost all of the United States (click here for detailed times and coverage).
- How long will the eclipse last where I am? In most places, it will take around two hours for the moon to transit in front of the sun, but the darkest (and most exciting) part will only last for two minutes, with impressive darkness maybe 5 or 10 minutes around it.
- Can you really go blind from looking at the eclipse? YES! You can go blind from looking at the sun for more than a split second; the problem with eclipses is that they make people think they can look at the sun safely. Your retina doesn't have pain receptors, so you won't know you did damage until it's too late. More information is available from our story on the topic. In theory, if the sun is 100% covered, you can look at it without special actually-certified glasses, but since this is a matter of less than a minute and you must be in the path of totality, why take the chance? This includes camera viewfinders (which will not reduce the burning effect and could make it worse) but not camera screens or simulated viewfinders (because a screen cannot be as bright as the sun).
- Can your hurt your camera or cell phone camera's sensor by pointing it at the sun during an eclipse? Evidence on this is unclear, because there hasn't been a lot of testing. In theory, it could damage the optics. NASA says cellphone cameras will be OK (watch that your eyes aren't exposed while you're framing the shot!) but it's best not to take the chance with an expensive camera -- you won't be able to get a good picture without a solar filter anyway, and that should protect it.
- How else can you watch an eclipse? You can watch the shape of the sun through tree leaves on the ground, or through an easy-to-make pinhole projector, or even a cereal box. Or, watch it online! NASA will have a live feed showing the moon moving over the sun, shot from several different locations to avoid clouds, and you can safely watch this from home. We'll also be simulcasting that feed on AccuWeather.com.
- Will it be cloudy for the eclipse? AccuWeather has a story with an Eclipse viewing conditions map for the U.S., updated every day between now and Monday, as well as the video below.
This time of year, odds are high that many, perhaps most people in the path will have some clouds, though the historical average gets cloudier vary from west to east. The animation here shows clouds on August 21 for the last 20 years -- and the entire state of South Carolina was only clear during three of those years. The truth is, in most places you won't know until it's too late to drive somewhere else to view it.
- What does a total eclipse look like (if it's not cloudy)? It gets surprisingly dark if you're in the path of totality. There are a handful of animations on YouTube including this timelapse -- but keep in mind because of the way cameras handle decreasing light, it may look different from camera to camera and won't likely be anything like seeing it in person.
- What does a total eclipse look like if it's cloudy? There's even less documentation of this online, but suffice to say that it will get very dark, you just won't have the benefit of being able to "see" the moon moving over the sun.
- Why are people saying cell towers may fail, gas stations will run out of gas, grocery stores will run out of food, etc.? This will likely happen, but not for most of us. A few dozen miles from the path of totality, humans are going to muck things up. Populations of towns will grow by more than five times in some cases, and when everyone tries to do a "Facebook Live" during the eclipse, it will likely tie up the cellphone towers. Traffic near the path of totality could also be a problem, backing up in popular areas for hours on either side of the eclipse. The sheer number of people in the area could easily deplete gas stations of fuel and grocery stores of food. Check our our Astronomy Blog "Eclipse checklist: 5 things to take with you for the solar eclipse" for more info.
- Why are some schools closing Monday? Some schools are canceling classes, possibly due to liability issues or so that kids can experience the eclipse with their family, while others are not (since Southern states go to school in August while many northern states don't, you'll hear more about school being closed down South).
- Will the power go out during the eclipse? Probably not -- in fact there will be a power spike similar to one that happens every night at dusk as streetlights come on. Most power consumed by visitors to the area of totality will be automotive and cell phone battery. Because a larger portion of the power grid is dependent on solar, there were some minor adjustments to the power grid that the power companies have already made (remember, we're talking a small area of darkness moving over the country fairly quickly). Unless, of course, there's a cascading failure, which is always possible.
- Does the weather change during an eclipse? Yes, in the path of totality, the temperature can fall at least 15 degrees. This probably makes the wind change, but scientists aren't sure. Reed Timmer and I will be measuring various weather variables with his tornado probe during the eclipse.
- When did the last total eclipse occur? The answer to this question depends on what part of Earth you're talking about, and what you consider a total eclipse.
- Can I view the eclipse on webcams? Most webcams aren't pointed at the sun, because it can damage the optics over time. There's almost no record of what happens on a webcam during a total eclipse. I could only find one video on YouTube showing a webcam sequence, and it was a single shot every minute. In theory, you will be able to see the scene get dark on some webcams, but it will depend on how the cameras react to decreasing light.
Do they try to compensate by changing their exposure? If so, it could minimize the effect. Do they switch to Infrared (black and white) when it gets too dark? This could create a sudden pop of light and sound which might be unsettling and would ruin the effect of the darkening. Live webcams near the path of totality include Earthcam's Seattle, Jackson Hole, Saint Louis, and Myrtle Beach cameras, WeatherSTEM's Nashville and Clemson cameras, Resortcams' Brasstown Mountain and Bryson City cameras, and others on my Live Webcams Map.
- If we haven't had an eclipse in the U.S. in the modern era, could it have unexpected results? We have a lot more technology (that we're dependent on) these days than we did in 1979. Although I suppose the eclipse could have some unintended technical consequences we haven't thought of, it's unlikely because so many eclipses outside of the U.S. (or close-to-total eclipses worldwide) have occured since then.
If you wonder how people acted (and reported things) during the 1979 Solar Eclipse, check this out (watch for Cronkite, stay for the hippies at the end):
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