There’s nothing quite like being in the right spot to see the moon block out the sun for a few unearthly minutes during a total eclipse.
For the weather watcher, the equivalent might be the eerie calm at the eye of a hurricane.
They’re two of the most exclusive natural sights on the planet: So what are the odds that a total eclipse would overshadow the spiraling menace of a hurricane?
It would be astonishingly rare to see that for yourself, but hurricanes and eclipses have almost certainly crossed paths at some points in the planet’s history.
If it ever happened in the open oceans before the modern era of meteorology, we probably didn’t have any way of knowing or observing it.
To be sure, there is no cause and effect going on between tropical weather and shadows from the moon.
Such an overlap would just be a strange coincidence, like the earthquake that struck San Francisco during the 1989 World Series.
Some 19th-century thinkers searched in vain for a clockwork link between hurricanes and celestial events.
Heat from the sun does fuel our weather, but we now understand that hurricanes behave because of a complicated web of earthly interactions — water, wind patterns and even dust.
The shadow of an eclipse wouldn’t stop a hurricane, either.
Eclipses are well-known for causing a sudden dip in air temperature — at least a few degrees, sometimes 20 degrees — but the return of sunshine usually sends the temperature right back up again.
Hurricanes draw their energy from warm ocean water. They have no trouble churning along during the nighttime hours, so a few minutes of pitch-black sky couldn’t be expected to make a significant dent in intensity.
The meetup is so rare because eclipses and hurricanes are moving targets, and both are uncommon.
Total eclipses are far more rare than hurricanes. There is usually just one total eclipse somewhere in the world each year, and some years have none.
In any given location, like Richmond, perfectly total eclipses might not return for centuries at a time.
The path of totality is usually long but narrow — thousands of miles long, but often just dozens of miles wide — and it often falls over water because most of the Earth’s surface is ocean.
The question is: Will there be a hurricane in the ocean on those occasions when an eclipse crosses through?
Hurricanes aren’t rare when you think about it on a global scale. You could expect dozens worldwide in any given year, usually 40 to 60 hurricanes.
But on any given day, there might be only one or two, and often none.
Different oceans have different hurricane seasons — this time of year is active for the northern Pacific and northern Atlantic.
During the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, tropical cyclones swirl around Madagascar and both the Pacific and Indian coastlines of Australia.
There are more reasons why it’s hard to find examples from history.
Armed with an excellent knowledge of orbits, astronomers know the details of eclipses over the past millennia and can make predictions for centuries in the future.
Unfortunately, the worldwide record of tropical storms is very incomplete before we could start tracking them with weather satellites in the 1960s.
There are storm reports from coastal towns and ships going back centuries, but mainly around the Atlantic Ocean.
Combing through the past few decades of hurricane and eclipse records doesn’t reveal any perfect overlaps, but some storms in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean came within a few hundred miles.
The only recent example from the Atlantic region happened long after a storm lost its strength.
On Oct. 2, 1959, a total eclipse arced a shadow across the Atlantic Ocean from New England to the Canary Islands.
The darkness swept over an area of low pressure — the weakened remains of Hurricane Gracie — as it was spinning off the coast of Maine. Three days earlier, the storm smashed into South Carolina with 120 mph winds.
As it happens, South Carolina is the only part of the U.S. that’s both in that line of totality for the upcoming total eclipse on Aug. 21 and exposed to the Atlantic coast.
There’s no direct cause for concern with hurricanes there at this point. It’s also still a bit too far out in the future for a reliable weather forecast.
But it’s always worth staying vigilant over the tropics this time of year, eclipse or not.