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What's the forecast for the solar eclipse? Looks like clear skies for southern Illinois

Adriana Pérez, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

CHICAGO — For an event as unusual as a total solar eclipse, enthusiasts hope more elements than just the moon and sun align.

In space, unusual solar activity might make the viewing experience extra dazzling. But on Earth, clouds and rain could mar the experience.

“Clouds are obviously what everybody cares about, in terms of viewing the total solar eclipse,” said Deirdre Dolan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center. “For those who are going to southern Illinois, it looks like luck is on their side.”

During the 2017 total solar eclipse, thick clouds settled over Carbondale and other parts of Illinois dampening the experience for many disappointed viewers.

After Monday’s event, the contiguous United States won’t see another total solar eclipse for 20 years adding to the pressure of picking an optimum viewing spot.

Early predictions indicate southern Missouri, southern Illinois and central Indiana will have clear skies and offer some of the country’s prime observing locations.

 

But many meteorological factors — such as water vapor and air temperature — that combine to produce cloud cover can complicate and change forecasts as eclipse day approaches.

“The sun is one of (the) main drivers of weather here on Earth,” Dolan said. “(It) is also responsible for convective-type clouds, meaning the sun heats the surface, the air rises, and then a cloud forms. So when you lose the sunlight, you can get a decrease in shallow convective clouds, which could increase chances of viewing the solar eclipse.”

With a sudden loss of sunlight, like what will happen during totality, humidity increases briefly, temperatures drop and winds die down, which could dissipate any puffy, cotton-like convective clouds that are low to the ground.

During El Niño years like this one — when warming surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean lead to drier and warmer conditions in the northern United States and Canada — there’s typically more cloud cover over the southern Illinois region in April, according to the National Weather Service. While this winter’s milder temperatures could lead to more evaporation in the Great Lakes that adds to the cloud cover, Dolan said winds are forecast to be blowing from the southeast so vapor likely won’t be a factor.

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