Clouds and rain could put a damper on eclipse activities Aug. 21, but that call is still far from certain.
That day, a total eclipse of the sun will traverse the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, the first time in nearly a century a total eclipse moves across the entire mainland portion of the United States.
The path of totality will move through a small portion of northeast Georgia, but the rest of the state will fall under at least some of the huge shadow – 99.1 percent in Athens – as the moon’s shadow moves across the nation at speeds ranging from about 2,400 mph in western Oregon to 1,500 mph in Charleston, S.C.
Science teachers across the nation and here in Georgia are preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime teachable moment during one of nature’s most unforgettable phenomena.
Here in the Athens area school systems have stockpiled special eclipse glasses and are delaying school dismissal times so students can safely see it; the peak eclipse time here will be at about 2:38 p.m., just as elementary school students normally are heading for home.
School officials won’t be surprised if absenteeism is higher than normal as parents pull their children out of school to head further north, into the path of totality.
But if the weather is unkind, it might simply get dark that day.
It’s too early to have a solid weather forecast for that day. But early indications are that probabilities are “higher than normal” for precipitation on Aug. 21, University of Georgia climate scientist Marshall Shepherd recently noted in his regular column in Forbes magazine.
The forecast was better on Friday.
“Yesterday it looked bad, but today it looks a lot better,” said Pam Knox, a UGA climatologist.
But we’re still too far away from the date to have a very accurate forecast, she said.
Shepherd, the head of UGA’s atmospheric science program and a former president of the American Meteorological Society, pointed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 8-to-14-day precipitation outlook, which maps the chances of precipitation during that time period.
It shows a higher than average chance of precipitation in much of the eastern United States, including Georgia.
The chances of precipitation are low along much of western portion of the eclipse’s path.
Even if it’s cloudy, we’ll be able to see the effects of the eclipse — darkness will descend, the temperature will drop, birds will fall silent.
It could get really, really dark in the path of totality, even to the point where it’s dangerous to walk around, Shepherd wrote.
If it’s only partly cloudy, viewers could still get lucky; clouds could shift and a clear spot emerge in the gazing path toward the sun during the few minutes of total eclipse.
The University of Georgia will open up Sanford Stadium for the event beginning at 1 p.m., with 10,000 eclipse viewing glasses available, including 5,000 pairs of free Bulldog-themed eclipse glasses. If it’s cloudy here, those in the stadium will at least be able to watch images of the eclipse from parts of the country with clear skies.
As the doctor says, hope for the best.