Three hours northwest of Huntsville, Alabama, the town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky became “Eclipseville USA.”
And while atmospheric researchers from the University of Alabama in Huntsville traveled to the path of totality, their scientific journey involves much more than just the moon and the sun.
“We are actually scanning birds, bugs, dust, other things in the atmosphere trying to get velocities, trying to see how the air movements change during an eclipse," explained Dustin Conrad, a graduate research assistant at UAH.
"For the radar we have here, basically we send out a signal and it has to hit something in order for it to come back. Normally, it is rain, snow, hail, other things like that. But in this case, we are using birds and bugs — it’s something to reflect that signal back towards us."
"We are basically just observing things, reflecting our signal back. We want to see how the air movements change during the eclipse,” Conrad concluded.
— UAH SWIRLL (@UAHSWIRLL) August 21, 2017
In addition to watching the birds and the bugs, observing the atmosphere throughout the eclipse may provide some clues for night time storm development.
“In the evening, when you start to shut off part of the sun, most of the time you think a lot of the clouds dissipate," explained Ryan Wade, a lecturer and academic advisor at UAH.
"But sometimes, that cooling actually produces a little bit of low-level convergence, and that low level convergence forces upward motion. And so, we’re hoping to see something like that in really fast time during the eclipse. And that’s what we can kind of see, maybe occurring off in the distance up towards Hopkinsville and towards the Land Between the Lakes.
"And you can see the cumulus that are growing. The more robust ones are actually growing now, during the eclipse and immediately following it. Hopefully we have got some good data to show something.”
— UAH SWIRLL (@UAHSWIRLL) August 19, 2017