Scientists Prepare for the Great American Eclipse

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Amount of sunlight reaching the Earth during eclipse totality over Tennessee (Image: NASA)

The sun is the main driving force behind our weather, because it heats the Earth’s surface. That means a solar eclipse will affect the weather by blocking out the sun, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

We know that as we lose the sun’s heating temperatures will begin to cool down. As temperatures cool down, winds tend to lighten near the surface and we see a decrease in weather that’s driven by heating (such as cumulus clouds, which use warm rising air to develop). However, we still don’t have a clear idea of how much an eclipse could impact these smaller weather features.

This Monday NOAA is going to use a new experimental version of the HRRR model (The high-resolution rapid refresh model) to attempt to model the weather changes that come with the eclipse. They hope this experimental version of the model will be able to detect the more subtle changes in weather that occur during an eclipse, something our current models are not able to do. According to NOAA scientists this is the first time an astronomical event is being coded into a weather model.

This is one more step in advancing short term weather models. By the next eclipse, we might be using a model to forecast how the weather will change in the path of the moon’s shadow!

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