Eclipse 2017 – Preliminary Planning

I have never, to my knowledge, left the time zone. Mostly, this is because I have never had any reason to do so. This is not some specific thing I am avoiding doing – other than refusing to do so just for the sake of having done so. That may change this year, as there is an event that is on my short list of things I will actively pursue outside the time zone – the total solar eclipse that will occur on 21 August 2017.

This event will be able to be seen coast-to-coast in the United States, so on the surface there should be no reason for me to travel too far to see this.   However, there are other factors to consider, the most pressing of which is weather conditions.

It is, of course, a little bit early to start looking at weather forecasts.  The 10-day forecast changes quite a bit as the 10th day gets closer; a four-month forecast is not even attempted.  But I can look at general trends to come up with places where I can expect better or worse possibilities of clear skies.  I’ve heard that trees increase cloud cover; they draw water from the ground through their roots and release it into the atmosphere.  Since the path of totality traverses the great southeastern forests – from Nashville, Tennessee to Charleston, South Carolina – this actually makes the Eastern time zone less appealing.

To provide preliminary data on this, I looked at historical weather reports for August 20-22 for the past three years at various locations along the path of totality.  Charleston, South Carolina, seemed to be the most likely place in the Eastern time zone to get a good view of the eclipse; however, that was about a 50/50 chance.  Most other places I looked had near-constant mostly cloudy or overcast conditions in the early-to-mid afternoon on those date.  It wasn’t until I started looking at the great plains – St. Louis and west – that I started seeing more clear conditions.  But by that point I was well out of the Eastern time zone.

The sample size is admittedly small, but I was doing all the data collection by hand.  If I can find a way to better automate the collection of data (I was simply browsing the history section on the Weather Underground website) I can better confirm this theory.  But preliminary data concurs with the theory, so I am starting to more seriously consider locations somewhere west of St. Louis.  Since I plan on taking my camera gear, it would ideally be some place that I can drive to in short order – a day’s worth of travel, or perhaps an overnight en route, so twelve to twenty hours from my home just west of Philadelphia.  This puts my prime location somewhere in Missouri between St. Louis and Kansas City, or perhaps as far west as Lincoln, Nebraska.  I would prefer to be as much east in this range as possible, though, because the peak eclipse will be located in western Kentucky.

Additionally, I would like to be about halfway between the edge of totality and the center.  Bailey’s Beads, flares of light seen against the edge of the moon’s silhouette as light creeps through the various mountains and valleys there, are more visible along the edge of totality, but totality lasts longer are you reach the center.  Halfway between gives me almost the length of totality as in the center, but with better views of Bailey’s Beads.

I am still working on getting various equipment together for photographing the eclipse, but that’s actually less a concern than finding a location.  I do plan on having a couple of locations in mind, and making a final decision as weather forecasts get closer and more certain, but it looks like most of those locations will be further west.

Here are some links for eclipse and eclipse photography information.  Mostly, this is so I don’t lose them:

An interactive map of the event.

Information from Canon on how to photograph an eclipse.  You can generalize this information to be applicable to any camera brand, but examples and discussions here are (of course) centered around Canon products.

Cool information on cloud cover along the path of the eclipse.