Near total lunar eclipse to grace WNY skies this week: Here’s everything you need to know to enjoy the show

Weather Blog

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A lunar eclipse will treat skywatchers across the United States Friday morning, and WNY is primed to get to see the entirety of show.

This will be the longest partial lunar eclipse in 580 years. While this technically counts as a “partial” eclipse (97.4% covered in shadow), it’s so close to total the naked eye likely won’t be able to tell the difference.

HOW A LUNAR ECLIPSE WORKS: The big players here are the Sun, Earth & Moon. A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth comes between the Sun and Moon, casting a shadow on the Moon for a relatively brief period of time (remember, these objects are always in motion).

While we’re all familiar with objects casting a shadow, most don’t realize there are two flavors of shadow. The Earth’s outer, fainter shadow is called the penumbra. It’s darker inner core is called the umbra, and it’s an important distinction when it comes to the caliber of show an eclipse will put on.

When the Moon passes only through the faint outer penumbra, the display is underwhelming. A penumbral lunar eclipse are barely noticeable to the naked eye and not worth your time. When the Moon passes through the umbra, or core of Earth’s shadow, that’s when the real fun starts. The effect of this turns the Moon a deep blood red, 100% covered during a total eclipse when the entirety of the Moon passes into this core and partially covered when only part of the Moon enters this core shadow.

Again, while this week’s show isn’t technically 100% total, it’s close enough to be treated as such to viewers.

Image credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

WHEN & WHERE DO I LOOK? While this eclipse will last many hours Friday morning, there is a shorter chunk of time we’ll recommend to see the show at its finest. The peak of Moon coverage will occur locally around 4:02am. At this moment, you’ll get almost the entire disk of the moon covered in that red/orange hue. After 4:02am, the Moon will gradually move out of the shadow as the reddish color starts spilling away.

The partial eclipse phase ends at 5:47am with the penumbral eclipse ending just after 7am with the Moon near the horizon as it sets.

Around 4am, you’ll be looking almost due west with the Moon at an altitude of roughly 33 degrees above the horizon. This may play to our benefit as there will likely be a band of lake effect clouds/precipitation hugging the Lake Ontario shoreline. Trying to look north might be difficult, but looking westward might offer some promise.

OUR FORECAST: Obviously, this is only worth watching if clear skies allow you to even see the show. A cold front will work through the area early Thursday with widespread rain. Behind that front, colder air will be spilling in Thursday night and Friday morning. This is not ideal as we’ll likely see several bands of clouds streaming off both Lake Erie and Ontario.

However, in typical lake effect fashion, it’s possible if not likely we’ll have partial clearing between those bands. This will provide some real, tangible hope for patient skywatchers to see the eclipse through the passing clouds.

It might take some luck, but I don’t see this forecast as being a complete bust. Patience may very well buy you a ticket to the show. Clouds aside, colder air is a certainty as temperatures tumble into the lower 30s and upper 20s. There will be a breeze, too. For those electing to see this outside vs. through the window, dress warm and plan on being out for a bit in the event you need to wait out the passing cloud cover.

This will be our last eclipse of 2021. Next year offers a pair of total lunar eclipses (essentially identical to what you’ll see with this one) on May 15-16, 2022 and November 8, 2022.

Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil

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