Eclipsed by clouds: It is too soon to get hyped

As you have probably already heard, on April 8, North America will experience a total solar eclipse—and this year, Cleveland is right in its path. From 1:59 p.m. to 4:29 p.m., the city will experience the eclipse, with totality lasting from 3:13 p.m. to 3:17 p.m.—a whopping 3 minutes 49 seconds. With the last total eclipse in Ohio having happened in 1806, Cleveland is abuzz with excitement. But are we getting too ahead of ourselves?

A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is aligned between the Sun and Earth, blocking the Sun’s light and casting a shadow on Earth. It typically happens twice a year, though up to five in one year have been recorded. There are three types: total, annular and partial. A total solar eclipse, which we Clevelanders will hopefully experience, happens when the Moon completely blocks the face of the Sun, leaving only the Sun’s atmosphere visible. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is farther away from Earth, allowing a ring of the Sun’s light to show. Lastly, a partial solar eclipse is when the Sun, Moon and Earth are not perfectly aligned, resulting in only part of the Sun being covered. Hybrid eclipses can also occur, which are a mashup of total and annular eclipses, though they are much more infrequent.

The last total eclipse on Earth was on Dec. 4, 2021, only visible from Antarctica, and the next one will be on Aug. 12, 2026, visible from the Arctic to Spain. For North America, the last total eclipse was on Aug. 21, 2017—when Donald Trump, standing on the Truman Balcony of the White House, looked directly at the eclipse three times without protective glasses—and our next will be on Aug. 23, 2044. While not a rare phenomenon, it certainly is not an everyday occurrence. So, since the alignment of the Sun, Moon and Earth depends on your location, only a few million will be able to see next month’s total eclipse. And Cleveland is one of the lucky cities lying on the path of totality.

Besides being a relatively uncommon phenomenon, the upcoming total eclipse has some unique features. Unlike the eclipse in 2017, the path of totality is wider and covers a more populated area. Totality will last up to 4 minutes 28 seconds, which is more than 2017’s 2 minutes 42 seconds. To put that in perspective, totality generally can last between 10 seconds to 7 minutes 29 seconds. And this year, the Sun is approaching its solar maximum, which is its regular period of greatest activity, so many of us will see a more prominent corona, appearing as white streams of light. We also might be able to see the chromosphere, presenting as a thin circle of pink, and prominences, which appear as pink loops coming off the Sun. Most excitingly, we could even see a coronal mass ejection, which is when the Sun expels a large amount of solar material.

However, as a native Clevelander, I must ask: Will we really be able to see the eclipse? Not to be a Debbie Downer, but Cleveland is not exactly known for its clear skies. As Weather Spark concisely states, “In Cleveland, the summers are warm, humid, and partly cloudy and the winters are freezing, snowy, windy, and mostly cloudy.” Even as I am writing this, heavy clouds blanket the sky. According to meteorologists, cloud cover historically averages around 60 to 80% on April 8. After all, April showers bring May flowers. In short, there is a slim chance the sky will be clear enough to see the eclipse. People who are flying or driving into Cleveland would be better off picking a different city in the eclipse’s path—even Dayton, Ohio has better odds, and Texas would be ideal. Cleveland watch parties and festivals probably will not have much viewing to do aside from gazing at the gray gloom.

Yet, despite the city’s infamous weather, Clevelanders are still hyped. Colleges and schools are closed, including our very own Case Western Reserve University. A plethora of watch parties and festivals are planned, such as Total on the Oval at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, SolarFest at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and CWRU’s party on Freiberger Field. Towns in the Greater Cleveland area are handing out free eclipse glasses to residents, hoping there will be no repeat of Trump’s behavior. People from outside of Cleveland are dropping in, booking hotels and Airbnbs and giving the economy a nudge. Roads and airports are expected to be packed, and Clevelanders have been warned to do their groceries a week in advance. With the next total eclipse in Cleveland not happening until 2444, everyone is eager to witness the spectacle—all without pausing to consider the high chance of cloudy skies. If we most likely won’t be able to even see the eclipse, is all this hype really worth it?
So, while the upcoming solar eclipse is quite a noteworthy event, we Clevelanders should not get our hopes up just yet. But, in the slight chance Cleveland does have clear skies, be sure to wear your eclipse glasses—do not be like Trump. Any glimpse of the Sun’s brightness before totality can cause blindness.

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