A partial solar eclipse will grace the skies over WNY Thursday morning. At its peak, nearly 80% of the sun will be blocked by the moon, turning the sun a slender crescent more in line with the moon, giving it a Pac-Man look. While there are variables out of our control (clouds, mainly), there are a few tips and tricks that can maximize your chances for a really cool experience. Here’s what you need to know…
WHAT’S AN ANNULAR ECLIPSE? Solar eclipses happen with some regularity. They’re not all the same. These come in two flavors: total and annular. A total solar eclipse is when the moon completely covers the sun, casting parts of the Earth in complete shadow. An annular eclipse is when the moon blocks all but a thin outer ring, giving rise to the “Ring of Fire” wording popular on the internet with this eclipse. During an annular eclipse, the moon is further away from the Earth, so it’s relative size in relation to the sun is small enough that it doesn’t entirely block it. Both total and annular eclipses feature “partial” phases where only a fraction of the sun is blocked. That’s where we get involved in WNY with this one.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT FORECAST UPDATE: The news tonight remains generally encouraging with regard to cloud cover early Thursday morning. To some extent, this is luck of the draw with where clouds are in relation to your particular location. Skies are mainly clear tonight, but there is some model suggestion thin clouds might try and stream in toward morning off to the northeast. Even if this occurs, it likely doesn’t ruin the show. Rather, you’ll just have to be patient. Other places will enjoy mainly clear skies and a largely uninterrupted view of the show. Because the sun will be so low on the horizon, even a seemingly partly cloudy sky can cause trouble. Overall, the forecast remains on track for at least partial visibility for many.
WHEN IS IT? For Rochester and WNY, the partial eclipse will begin before sunrise when the sun is not yet visible. Fortunately, the peak occurs just after sunrise, allowing us an opportunity to see this at it’s best just after the sun has risen beyond the horizon.
Rochester’s sunrise is at 5:30 am with peak coverage of roughly 78% at 5:38 am. That has pros and cons. A low horizon sun is often bathed in much more vivid color, the product of light having to pass through more atmosphere to get to you. That also has implications on how you can safely view the show (more on that below), but means you’re going to have to know in advance where to station yourself for an unobstructed view of the northeast horizon. This will not be a case of simply looking up. Any trees, houses, etc. will block the peak eclipse with it on just above the horizon. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the sun will progressively brighten all the way through 6:36 am when the eclipse ends.
WHAT WILL IT LOOK LIKE? Those of you who might have experienced the total solar eclipse a few years back will not be able to draw much comparison to this one. There will be no significant darkening of the sky. Things won’t turn pitch black and dead silent. In fact, unless you knew something was going on, many of you might not even realize there’s an eclipse occurring.
In my experience a few years back in Nashville of the total eclipse, we started noticing things looking “weird” when about 70% of the sun was blocked on the way to totality. It’s hard to put into words. Your mind, whether you’re conscious of it or not, knows what looks “normal” with regard to lighting. At 70%, something just felt off. Light bathing our surroundings took on an odd hue, almost smokey amber. It did this all the way up to totality. I’m convinced this particular eclipse will be magnified by the sunrise timing, further accentuating vivid sunrise color and making the morning light feel off. While partial solar eclipses can disappoint, our timing this time around has the potential to overperform.
CAN I STARE AT THE SUN? Hard no. As with any solar eclipse (or any day in general), if you want to look at the sun, you’re going to need some help.
Local planetariums often sell special eclipse glasses. The Rochester Museum and Science Center is providing safe eclipse glasses for sale at their front desk and gift shop for $2 each.
You can also find welder’s goggles at some hardware stores. Places like Amazon carry both and you might be able to fast track shipment to get here in time. Making your own pinhole projector is also a fun project to safely view the show. Here’s an easy way to make a projector for safe viewing if you’re feeling crafty:
I’ve been asked by several folks if sunglasses qualify. They DON’T. Prescription, polarized, even super expensive…the answer is still NO.
There are short and select times when it is borderline safe to look at the sun. Those times happen to be right at sunrise and sunset (and this is a sunrise eclipse). However, this practice remains dangerous and is not advised. Go find yourself a pair of eclipse glasses instead of risking it. Your eyes will thank you.
We’ll obviously be keeping you updated as Thursday morning draws closer!
TIPS AND TRICKS: Altitude is your friend with this one. You want the clearest shot of the horizon possible, so elevation is king. If you can’t go up, go out. There are many public piers that will jut out over Lake Ontario and allow an unobstructed view of the northeast horizon. Factor in travel and walking time to whatever destination you choose so that you’re set up and ready to roll. By the time the sun rises above the trees in your neighbors yard, the show will be over. Plan ahead.
Photographers, you’ll likely be safe in shooting the eclipse immediately after sunrise. After that, a solar filter would be a good idea.
While camera phones have come a long way in recent years, it’s going to be tough to capture this with your phone. Note I said tough, not impossible. Your best bet remains a DSLR with filter and zoom lens.
WHERE CAN I GO TO LOOK?
A few places available that are open to the public include Hamlin Beach State Park, Ontario Beach Park in Charlotte, and Martin Road Park in Henrietta. Note: Getting closer to the lake where there are no trees, and as far above the horizon as you can will be your best bet at optimal viewing.
Lastly, have fun! These don’t come around every day and often serve as a memory that will stick with you for a lifetime. Here’s hoping our skies cooperate.
-Chief Meteorologist Eric Snitil & Meteorologist Christine Gregory