Where, and how, to watch the solar eclipse
People across the U.S. will be treated to a rare sight Monday, Aug. 21 as a total solar eclipse makes its way from Lincoln Way, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.
A total solar eclipse, which hasn’t been seen in the states since 1979, occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth and completely covers (or, eclipses) the sun. The moon is about 400 times smaller than the sun, but its proximity to Earth during a solar eclipse makes it appear as though the two celestial bodies are the same size. The effect lasts just two minutes, on average.
Folks in Seattle will be experiencing the eclipse in the morning hours, at 9:06 a.m. Totality — the moment in which the sun is completely covered — will last from 10:19 a.m. until 10:21 a.m. The event will end by 11:41 a.m.
The Pacific Northwest will not see another total solar eclipse until April 2024, which means people in Washington state will want the best possible view. In an area prone to cloudiness and fresh off a period of a heavy haze from B.C. wildfires, it’s worth checking to see if the weather will hamper your experience.
Forecasts included below are based on historical cloud conditions and are subject to change. The National Centers for Environmental Information has provided an interactive map to gauge where clouds are expected. A more accurate forecast will be available a few days prior to the eclipse.
Despite being almost 250 miles north of the path of the total eclipse, Seattle residents will be treated to 92.2 percent obscuration (with 100 percent obscuration being a total eclipse). However, if historical trends are any indication, the likelihood of skies being clear enough to see the eclipse in-full is hovering around 49.6 percent.
Renton fares a little better than Seattle on the cloud forecast, with similar obscuration (92 percent) but a 57 percent chance of clear skies.
Tacoma’s forecast is almost identical to that of Seattle’s, with a slightly higher obscuration at 93.2 percent and a slightly better chance (57.3 percent) of clear skies.
Proximity to the path of total eclipse doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a better view. Just 54 miles outside of the eclipse path, Vancouver will have near-100 percent obscuration. But its residents will have a hard time enjoying it if it remains cloudy — the NCEI projects a 57 percent chance of clear skies.
Eastern Washington promises the best views of the eclipse. Wenatchee will have 92 percent obscuration and a 92 percent chance of clear skies. Yakima and the Tri-Cities area will have 95 and 96 percent obscuration, respectively, and a more than 90 percent chance of clear skies.
Can I see the eclipse under cloud cover?
The eclipse itself will not be viewable if completely obscured by clouds. If you are under cloud cover, though, you will still be able to “experience totality,” according to the American Astronomical Society. Expect to see the sky darken and feel the temperature cool. In addition to changes in light and temperature, shadows become incredibly sharp and detailed and animals may become confused and behave strangely.
How to watch the eclipse
A solar eclipse is an amazing sight to take in – just make sure you do so safely. NASA recommends using special-purpose glasses (find a list of brands here) or hand-held solar viewers. Parents are advised to supervise children to ensure they use their solar protection properly. Do not view the eclipse with a camera, telescope or binoculars.
Looking directly at the sun during the eclipse may cause “eclipse blindness,” a phenomenon in which solar rays can seriously-damage the eye’s retina. While this may not cause permanent blindness, people who stare at the eclipse for long enough without eye protection could suffer permanent damage to their vision.