Rob Fowler: August 21st Eclipse

August 15, 2017: Rob Fowler, chief meteorologist for News 2, came to our Rotary Club to talk about the upcoming total solar eclipse coming up on August 21 at 2:46pm. This is a rare event, made even more rare because the United States will be the only country to see “totality”. The shadow will dissipate into the ocean shortly after leaving South Carolina’s coast. The next total eclipse will be April 8, 2024 but will travel from South to North across the US, whereas this year’s eclipse travels from North to South and covers many more states. Following the 2024 eclipse the next time a solar eclipse will occur will be in 2052 and 2078.

Mr. Fowler gave us some definitions and explanations about different types of eclipse. During a solar eclipse the moon is between the Earth and the Sun.   During a lunar eclipse the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon. The interesting thing for us in SC is that we will see “totality”. Mr. Fowler explained that for every 1% difference in totality there is a 1,000 times greater darkness, so even if you were at 99% eclipse it would be significantly different than a total eclipse.

This year’s eclipse will be roughly 70 miles wide. It will take 94 minutes to travel across the US from Oregon to South Carolina, travelling approximately 1,700 mph. Totality enters SC at 2:36pm and will leave SC at 2:49 pm, so it is only in SC for 13 minutes. The eclipse will start approximately 1:16 pm and end at 4:09pm, but totality will occur at 2:46 and last for 1 minute 40 seconds. The best place to view the eclipse would be the Francis Marion National forest and will last for 2:33 seconds.

Mr. Fowler wanted to stress some of the safety recommendations about how to view the eclipse, starting with the basics of not looking directly at the sun without authorized safety glass. He compared the intensity of radiation of the sun during an eclipse to a garden hose. If you cover a hose with your thumb the water pressure drastically increases. The radiation from the sun will be similar so as the moon begins to cover the sun the visible spectrum of light actually will be more intense and potentially harmful to your eyes. He also stated that while the sun is in “totality” it is safe to look at it with the naked eye, but cautioned this only lasts for a little over 1 minute so everyone should be extremely mindful when looking without safety glasses. As an alternate you could use #14 welder’s glasses. He also cautioned that looking at the sun through a camera or smartphone will not protect your eyes. He stated that it would be best to let the professionals take the photographs.

The big question that remains is what the weather will be during the eclipse. At this point they are forecasting partly cloudy conditions. They are hopeful the clouds will hold off until later in the day. His other concern beyond normal weather is that as of our meeting there are 3 waves off the coast of Africa that need to be monitored for potential hurricanes. Regardless of the weather this is a rare event that we all should be excited about and take advantage of witnessing.

Steve Coe, Keyway Committee