What if it’s cloudy on eclipse day?
The weather has to cooperate, or you won’t see the eclipse!
You’ve made all your plans. You’ve studied all the possible locations to see totality from. You’ve made sure you’re in the path on eclipse day (or better yet, the night before!). You checked the weather forecasts, and you found a spot that you’re comfortable with. You made all the travel plans. You brought your family, and your kids are excited to see this thing you’ve been hyping to them for so long. After all the planning, all the expense, all the time you spent requesting off school and work, and convincing everyone you know to come and be there with you… You’re finally ready to watch totality on April 8, 2024!
However – and this happens sooner or later to ALL eclipse chasers – the night before the eclipse, you’re watching thick clouds roll in. You’re watching the news frantically for any hint of optimism about what will happen the next morning. You’re wondering how on earth you’re going to explain to your friends and family that weather has gotten the best of you, and this place that we’re now in is NOT going to be the place we watch the eclipse from. Our eclipse… is going to be eclipsed!
Some of the best stories of “literal” eclipse chasing comes from people who’ve seen quite a few of these, and they will all tell you about the one that got away – or that ALMOST got away – from them. They’ll tell you about ditching all their plans and equipment at the very last minute, as they scrambled into the bus, or the cars, or the trucks, or the donkey carts, and hightailed it the heck out of dodge – toward that tiny, clear patch of sky they could see opening up at the very last minute.
They’ll tell you about the airplanes they had on standby (at significant expense), to get them up and above the clouds, into the path of the shadow as it flew over them and landed on the thick bank of clouds below. They’ll tell you about keeping one eye on the road, one eye on the map, and one eye on the bright spots on the ground where the Sun was shining through holes in the clouds, as they broke universal traffic laws in the most foreign of countries to try and get into the light – just to watch the Sun go dark. They’ll tell you about the times that nothing they could do could get them out from under the soup, and they watched helplessly as totality passed over them without so much as a hint of a glance at the eclipsed Sun.
The author has been clouded out on only one occasion in his life, and it wasn’t just a cloud-out, it was a thick, heavy, dounpour of a rainout that offered a sum-total of NO CHANCE of seeing anything on eclipse day. Water glasses were set up on the concrete abutments at our location, and a sizeable amount of “eclipse rain” was collected as it fell during totality. To this day, that water in those sealed vials, that fell on us from the sky during totality in China, is a great reminder to me of the time that I went all the way to the other side of the world to see a massive eclipse, and was treated to nothing more than a pelting of rain that melted plans and softened egos. The metaphor contained within that water, of the dashing of carefully-made plans, is intense – and was a defining moment in life. And believe me, it got DARK during totality under all those clouds! No lights came on as it became blacker than the blackest night on the ocean or in the Outback, and so we could not see the nose on our faces during those 5+ minutes when we should have been rejoicing in the view of the corona! Our Chinese guides took the Zen approach, and comforted us with the fact that we had all still been situated in the shadow, and we had indeed taken part in the event, in the one way that was our destiny on that day to be able to participate. They were satisfied, even while we travelers were not. Easy for them to say…! But maybe they had a point. Your experience will be unique, of course – but let’s hope it involves seeing totality!
How do you prevent disappointment from happening to you? Well, make SURE that you go somewhere that has historically had “Can’t-Miss” levels of clear skies on eclipse day. (For 2024, that means much of Texas and Mexico.) But who knows? It might be raining in Texas, and be clear as a bell in Indiana and Newfoundland! Remember: Climate is what you EXPECT, but weather is what you GET. Expect the unexpected. Scout out your viewing location. Make sure you have a backup plan or two or three – and the funds – to get out of there on eclipse eve or eclipse morning, in your car if you have to, even 400-500 miles!, to get to a spot that is looking good. Maybe you too will want to have a small airplane on standby (though LOTS of funds are required for this!), to swoop you aloft and well above those menacing clouds. For many people, that expense is worth it, because seeing totality is what it’s all about for them.
But if you have none of those things, and you do decide to stay put, and you do end up getting clouded out – well then, you might still come away with a good cloud-out story (there aren’t too many of those around, but your mileage may vary!). You might have to “wait till next time”, as the experience steels your resolve to defeat the gremlins and experience totality the next time it graces our planet. You might decide to play it safer next time. Or it may even happen that you might give up on this eclipse-chasing thing altogether (we hope not!). But whatever you do, make sure to give some serious thought about what you will do in the days and hours leading up to second contact. Like a seasoned pilot who anticipates and expects to perform the go-around, be prepared with a plan whose execution difficulty and expense is in direct proportion to the primal need you feel to see totality. If you’ve never experienced it before, the effort and expense will be worth it. And once you do beat the odds, and totality is staring you in the face, we guarantee you’ll have a story worthy of re-telling to your great-grandchildren many years from now! “Once upon a time, there was going to be an eclipse…” And once they see THEIR first totality, they’ll understand perfectly. (“Man, my great-grandparents were really COOL – even back in the early part of the century!”)
Life is all about experiences, and the experience of totality is something not to be missed. Share the adventure – and the day – with the people who are most special to you. No matter how it turns out, and no matter what your experience, we can guarantee you’ll never forget April 8th 2024!