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What will and won't happen in Richmond during the eclipse

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Path of the solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017

A total eclipse of the sun will occur in a narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina, but Virginia will experience a partial eclipse.

The decades-long wait for the solar eclipse is almost over, but much of the chatter — and some of the hype — is about things that won’t actually happen in Richmond.

The truly rare and dramatic effects happen in the path of totality, and that will miss Richmond by 290 miles to the south.

It’s best to just enjoy it for what it will be — a partial eclipse — and to do so safely.

Here’s what to expect.

The appearance of the eclipse

What will happen: a somewhat dimmer sky

What won’t happen: a completely dark sky

Anyone expecting it to turn totally dark in Richmond might be disappointed.

That will only happen in the path of totality, between Oregon and South Carolina.

It will still look like daytime here during the eclipse, though you might sense it’s not the usual mid-afternoon brightness.

It’s also not a “blink and you’ll miss it” event — the eclipse will unfold over 2 hours and 46 minutes .

For an observer watching from Richmond, the moon will start crossing into the sun at 1:18 p.m. and the sun will gradually appear to take on a crescent shape over the next hour.

At 2:44 p.m. the moon will cover 86 percent of the sun over Richmond, but the moon will keep moving out of the way and the eclipse will end by 4:04 p.m.

The experience will be slightly different in other parts of the state.

The eclipse shadow travels from west to east across the country, so the first part of Virginia to see the eclipse begin is the Cumberland Gap area at about 1:05 p.m.

Virginia Beach will be the last part of the state to see the sun fully restored at 4:07 p.m.

The part of Virginia that will see the greatest eclipse is the part closest to the line of totality, and the Cumberland Gap area in the far southwestern tip of the state will have 98 percent of the sun obscured.

According to NASA’s eclipse website, 90 percent is a general threshold for noticing that shadows cast by the sun start to look diffused and unusual.

As we’ve mentioned in several previous stories, the danger of eye damage is very real, so glance up only with certified safety glasses, or look away with an indirect method.

The rarity of the eclipse

What will happen: expect a similar-looking partial solar eclipse on April 8, 2024

What won’t happen: having to wait another 100 or 1,000 years

Explanation:

There are misconceptions and debates about how rare this is, because it depends on whether you’re talking about total or partial eclipses.

It also depends on whether you’re talking about how often eclipses happen on Earth, in a given area like a country, or one particular spot like a city.

Once-in-a-lifetime is also a vague way to describe eclipses because everyone has a different lifespan.

Here is some perspective on that for Virginia and Richmond.

Any particular spot will see many more partial eclipses than total eclipses, and most people will have the opportunity to see several in their lives.

The next partial eclipse that will cover more than 50 percent of the sun, and is visible from Richmond, will occur April 8, 2024.

The most recent partial eclipse of a similar quality was May 10, 1994, but there was one on Christmas Day 2000 that obscured 40 percent of the sun.

There will also be good partial eclipses visible all across Virginia in 2045, 2048 and 2052.

The next time Richmond is in the path of a total eclipse will be Sept. 14, 2099, and much of the state will be able to see totality.

The most recent total eclipse to occur in Richmond’s location was July 20, 1506, but one path of totality came as close as Chesterfield on June 24, 1778.

The next total eclipse crossing over any part of Virginia is May 11, 2078, but it will track only through a sliver of Hampton Roads.

The most recent total eclipse somewhere in Virginia was March 7, 1970, across Hampton Roads.

The next annular — or ring-like — eclipse in either Richmond or Virginia will happen Aug. 4, 2111.

The most recent annular eclipse to be witnessed in Richmond was Sept. 18, 1838.

One tracked as close as Petersburg on May 30, 1984, but overcast weather prevented many from enjoying the sight.

Astronomers have been expecting Monday’s shadow for quite a long time.

“We just have to know very well the moon’s orbit around the Earth, and the Earth’s orbit around the sun,” said Jack Singal, a physics professor at the University of Richmond.

Ancient astronomers were even able to make rough eclipse predictions because they tracked the paths of the moon and sun through the sky, even if they didn’t understand their orbits the way we do now.

“These eclipses are recorded throughout history so that allows us to go back and date things that happened, like when kings ruled,” said Singal.

You could say the Richmond Times-Dispatch has been covering this one for 99 years.

A column first mentioned our 2017 eclipse back in 1918, the last time a total eclipse swept from coast-to-coast.

The effects of the eclipse

What might happen: different animal behavior

What won’t happen: werewolves and zombies

The best chance of seeing unusual animal behavior will be in that path of totality, where it will actually look like it’s nighttime.

Here, it’s possible that some animals could sense the dimmer sky and behave like it’s early evening.

There isn’t a complete guide to how each type of bird or mammal would react, but it might give you something else to try and observe as the eclipse slowly unfolds.

Some cats and dogs already do a lot of things that seem weird to us, so it would be hard to spot any difference at all indoors!

The weather forecast

Expect a humid day, with afternoon temperatures near 90 degrees and partly cloudy skies.

Overcast weather is unlikely but scattered clouds could briefly block our view of the eclipse.

The effect of the eclipse itself on the temperature probably won’t be dramatic here.

The reduced sunshine should let us observe a slight drop in temperature across Virginia, perhaps a few degrees according to a recent National Weather Service simulation.

We won’t lose enough sunshine to get a noticeable 10- or 20-degree drop in air temperature. Leave the jacket at home.

Check Richmond.com/weather for John Boyer’s videos and updates as the forecast evolves. Contact him at (804) 649-6209 or JBoyer@timesdispatch.com, and follow him on Twitter, @boyerweather.

Meteorologist

John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016. Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

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John Boyer

John Boyer, the RTD's staff meteorologist

John Boyer is the first staff meteorologist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He joined the RTD newsroom in November 2016 after covering severe weather on television in Tulsa, Okla.

As a native of the Roanoke area, the region’s heavy snowstorms started his fascination with Virginia’s changing weather.

Boyer earned his degree in meteorology from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He is a member of the American Meteorological Society and earned their Certified Broadcast Meteorologist seal in 2012.

Look for his stories in the RTD and on Richmond.com, along with videos and forecast updates for major weather events in our area.

Email him your story ideas and weather tips.

Sunday Weatherline

A derecho struck the state 40 years ago

A potent derecho hurtled through Virginia on July 5, 1980. The storm began in Iowa the day before. Winds of up to 81 mph capsized boats, toppled trees and left power outages across the state. A concert at City Stadium was called off because of the high wind and rain.

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