Apr 08, 2024

Huge crowds await a total solar eclipse. Clouds may spoil the view

Posted Apr 08, 2024 10:00 AM
NASA will stream telescope&nbsp;<a href="https://plus.nasa.gov/banner/2024-total-solar-eclipse-through-the-eyes-of-nasa/">views of the sun</a>&nbsp;and on NASA TV starting at Noon CDT.Image Associated Press
NASA will stream telescope views of the sun and on NASA TV starting at Noon CDT.Image Associated Press

MESQUITE, Texas (AP) — Millions of spectators along a narrow corridor stretching from Mexico to the U.S. to Canada eagerly awaited Monday's celestial sensation — a total eclipse of the sun — even as forecasters called for clouds.

The best weather was expected at the tail end of the eclipse in Vermont and Maine, as well as New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

It promised to be North America’s biggest eclipse crowd ever, thanks to the densely populated path and the lure of more than four minutes of midday darkness in Texas and other choice spots. Almost everyone in North America was guaranteed at least a partial eclipse, weather permitting.

“Cloud cover is one of the trickier things to forecast,” National Weather Service meteorologist Alexa Maines explained at Cleveland's Great Lakes Science Center on Sunday. “At the very least, it won’t snow.”

The cliff-hanging uncertainty added to the drama. Rain or shine, "it’s just about sharing the experience with other people,” said Chris Lomas from Gotham, England, who was staying at a sold-out trailer resort outside Dallas, the biggest city in totality's path.

For Monday's full eclipse, the moon was due to slip right in front of the sun, entirely blocking it. The resulting twilight, with only the sun’s outer atmosphere or corona visible, would be long enough for birds and other animals to fall silent, and for planets, stars and maybe even a comet to pop out.

The out-of-sync darkness lasts up to 4 minutes, 28 seconds. That's almost twice as long as it was during the U.S. coast-to-coast eclipse seven years ago because the moon is closer to Earth. It will be another 21 years before the U.S. sees another total solar eclipse on this scale.

Extending five hours from the first bite out of the sun to the last, Monday's eclipse begins in the Pacific and makes landfall at Mazatlan, Mexico, before moving into Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and 12 other U.S. states in the Midwest, Middle Atlantic and New England, and then Canada. Last stop: Newfoundland, with the eclipse ending in the North Atlantic.

It will take just 1 hour, 40 minutes for the moon's shadow to race more than 4,000 miles (6,500 kilometers) across the continent.

Eye protection is needed with proper eclipse glasses and filters to look at the sun, except when it ducks completely out of sight during an eclipse.

The path of totality — approximately 115 miles (185 kilometers) wide — encompasses several major cities this time, including Dallas, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo, New York and Montreal. An estimated 44 million people live within the track, with a couple hundred million more within 200 miles (320 kilometers). Add in all the eclipse chasers, amateur astronomers, scientists and just plain curious, and it’s no wonder the hotels and flights are sold out and the roads jammed.

Experts from NASA and scores of universities are posted along the route, poised to launch research rockets and weather balloons, and conduct experiments. The International Space Station’s seven astronauts also will be on the lookout, 270 miles (435 kilometers) up.


MESQUITE, Texas (AP) — Eclipse spectators staked out their spots across three countries Sunday, fervently hoping for clear skies despite forecasts calling for clouds along most of the sun-vanishing route.

Click here to watch as NASA streams a telescope view of the sun 12 NoonCDT

North America won’t see another coast-to-coast total solar eclipse for 21 years, prompting the weekend’s worry and mad rush.

Monday’s extravaganza stretches from Mexico’s Pacific beaches to Canada’s rugged Atlantic shores, with 15 U.S. states in between.

“I have arrived in the path of totality!” Ian Kluft announced Sunday afternoon after pulling into Mesquite from Portland, Oregon, a 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) drive.

total eclipse happens when the moon lines up perfectly between Earth and the sun, blotting out the sunlight. That means a little over four minutes of daytime darkness east of Dallas in Mesquite, where locals like Jorge Martinez have the day off. The land surveyor plans to “witness history” from home with his wife and their 3-year-old daughter, Nati.

“Hopefully, she’ll remember. She’s excited, too,” he said following breakfast at Dos Panchas Mexican Restaurant.

Inside the jammed restaurant, manager Adrian Martinez figured on staying open Monday.

“Wish it was going to be sunny like today,” he said. “But cloudiness? Hopefully, it still looks pretty good.”

Near Ennis, Texas, to the south, the Range Vintage Trailer Resort was also packed, selling out of spots more than a year ago.

“I booked it instantly, then I told my wife, ‘We’re going to Texas,’” Gotham, England’s Chris Lomas said from the trailer resort Sunday. Even if clouds obscure the covered-up sun, “it will still go dark. It’s just about sharing the experience with other people,” he added.

You can wear eclipse glasses to safely view the Sun during the partial eclipse phases of a solar eclipse, before and after totality. Photo by NASA/Mamta Patel Nagaraja
You can wear eclipse glasses to safely view the Sun during the partial eclipse phases of a solar eclipse, before and after totality. Photo by NASA/Mamta Patel Nagaraja

In Cleveland, the eclipse persuaded women's Final Four fans Matt and Sheila Powell to stick around an extra day after Sunday's game. But they were debating whether to begin their drive home to Missouri Valley, Iowa, early Monday in search of clearer skies along the eclipse’s path. “We’re trying to be flexible,” Powell said.

Even the eclipse professionals were up in the air.

Eclipse mapmaker Michael Zeiler had a perfect record ahead of Monday, seeing 11 out of 11 total solar eclipses after successfully relocating three of those times at the last minute for better weather.

“We are the complete opposite of tornado chasers, always seeking clear skies,” Zeiler said in an email over the weekend. This time, though, he was staying put in Fredericksburg, Texas, with his family, 10 of them altogether, and holding onto “a considerable ray of hope.”

Farther north, in Buffalo, New York, Jeff Sherman flew in from Somerville, Massachusetts, to catch his second total solar eclipse. After seeing the U.S. coast-to-coast eclipse in 2017, “now I have to see any one that’s nearby, he said.

Kluft also enjoyed clear skies for the 2017 eclipse, in Oregon, and rolled into Mesquite wearing the T-shirt from that big event. As for Monday’s cloudy forecast across Texas, “at least I’ll be around people who are like-minded.”

Dicey weather was also predicted almost all the way to Lake Erie, despite Sunday’s gorgeous weather. The only places promised clear skies along Monday's narrow 115-mile-wide (185-kilometer-wide) corridor of totality were New England and Canada.

Like everywhere else, the weather was the hot topic at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park on Sunday. By mid-morning, volunteer Tom Villa already had greeted tourists from several states, as well as Canada and Brazil.

“They hope it’s like this tomorrow, of course, but you know, the weather is the weather,” he said.


AP reporters Jamie Stengle near Ennis, Texas; Carolyn Thompson in Buffalo, New York; and Stephanie Nano in Cleveland contributed.