A major theme of the blog in the last week has been forecast uncertainty. Where, we wondered repeatedly, would Hurricane Dean go? How strong would it get? Which computer prediction should we trust? Needless to say, forecasting the future is a tricky business, even with the most advanced computer models. But there are some things that are a bit easier to model. For instance, I can make a forecast for ten years from today, and guarantee you with near-absolute certainty that it will come true:
On August 21, 2017, at precisely 10:15 AM and 50 seconds PDT, something will make landfall on the coast of Oregon, just north of the town of Newport. It will proceed across the country on an ESE to southeasterly course, crossing the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Kansas City and St. Louis in Missouri, Nashville and West Knoxville in Tennessee — including our current apartment — and Charleston in South Carolina, before finally touching down in the Atlantic Ocean and leaving dry land behind at 2:49:07 PM EDT off Cape Romain, SC.
What is this “something” I speak of? Not a hurricane, nor any other kind of weather system, but the shadow of the Moon!
That’s right: ten years from today, the continental United States will experience its first total solar eclipse in the lifetime of many of this blog’s readers. Not since 1979 has this most amazing of astronomical events been visible from anywhere in the Lower 48. (Some of you may remember seeing a solar eclipse in 1994, but that one was annular, not total.)
Here is a cool narration of the journey that the Moon’s umbra — i.e., its inner shadow, the small area where the Sun is completely obscured — will take across the country, from coast to coast. And here are a bunch of maps. You can also view the maps on Google Maps or Google Earth.
The eclipse can be viewed from a much wider area — all of North America, in fact, and part of South America — as a partial eclipse. But only in that narrow strip with the eclipse be total. And that makes all the difference in the world. Partial eclipses are awesome, but total eclipse are about a thousand times more awesome, because with a total eclipse, day truly turns to night during the totality phase — and you can actually look directly at the sun, since none of the photosphere (the part whose rays can damage your retinas) is visible. (You must NEVER look directly at the Sun during a partial or annular eclipse, or the partial phase of a total eclipse, no matter how small the sliver of visible photosphere is. Only during totality is direct viewing safe!)
Here’s a broader map showing the penumbral path (where the eclipse is partial) as well as the umbral path. And below it is an animated GIF showing the same thing; the small, fast-moving black dot represents the umbral shadow (i.e., the path of totality). Both images are courtesy of eclipse.org.uk.
As regular readers know, the eclipse has long been on my countdown sidebar at left — 3,653 days and counting! :) Ten years is a long time, but I’m already actively looking forward to this event. You have to understand: total eclipses are unlike anything else in astronomy, or the human experience for that matter. People who’ve seen one (or more) consistently describe them as life-changing experiences.
I’m fully committed to being somewhere along the path of totality on August 21, 2017, regardless of where Becky, the kid(s) and I are living at that point. I’ll apply for time off work years in advance if I have to. :) And we won’t be alone: a few months ago, I told some of the SHA girls about the eclipse, and we made a pact that, wherever we’re living in 2017, we will get together to watch the eclipse. If Becky and I still in Knoxville, we’ll probably get together here, but if not, I’m thinking maybe Grand Teton, since the weather probably stands a pretty good chance of being good there. Of course, wherever we pick, I’ll be obsessively checking the weather in the days before the eclipse, ready to resort to Plan B and Plan C in either direction along the path of totality if necessary. :)
Interestingly enough, although 2017 is the first eclipse in a long time, it won’t be the last for a long time. There will be another total eclipse on April 8, 2024, trekking diagonally across the country in essentially the opposite direction, from southwest to northeast. Among other places, that one goes right through Buffalo. And if you happen to live in the Carbondale, Illinois region (home of the Salukis!), you get the unique experience of having two total solar eclipses in seven years! Here’s a map of the overlapping paths of totality:
Anyway… I don’t know if I’ll still have a blog in ten years, but if I do, I promise to provide complete blog coverage of the eclipse. :)
P.S. I say “near-absolute certainty” because there are various hypothetically possible events, each of which has a negligible but nonzero probability of occurring, that could disrupt the eclipse. For example: the Sun could go nova. It’d be several billion years early, but hey, it coudl happen. Or a large, heretofore undetected asteroid could impact either the Earth or the Moon and the impacted body’s orbit. Or some larger galactic event could mess up both orbits. Or we could all be sucked into a black hole. Or Frank J. could succeed in his efforts to Nuke the Moon. :)
P.P.S. West Town Mall, which is just up the road from where Becky and I live, will quite literally be the northern border of the path of totality:
Of course, one doesn’t want to watch the eclipse from the very edge of the path of totality, because the eclipse is only total for a few seconds there — not even enough time to take off your protective glasses! Instead, you want to head for someplace along the “center line,” where totality will last for more than two minutes. Like for instance, the Sweetwater, TN area…
…or better yet, as I mentioned, Grand Teton:
I’m back in Knoxville… just in time to watch another Space Station flyover, this time with the Moon and Jupiter nearby:
Alas, you can’t see Jupiter, which was quite close to the Moon, because of the damn cloud. ;) The ISS is the little line at at top right — you can see it better in the larger view, and even better in the close-up after the jump:
Jimmy Clausen, driving someone around with a load of booze?
Nothing like getting the season off to a strong start.
UPDATE: Since I was so kindly called a mongoloid in the comments for my haste in simply pointing to a news story, I’ve happily made the correction naming the correct Clausen wunderkind of the day. I guess I’m still just stuck on the last one we had here. Oops. Sorry for being an actual human being that made a mistake.
Space shuttle Endeavour has landed safely in Florida, completing a mission that included work on the space station.
Visit CNN for the latest.
UPDATE, 11:44 AM EDT: The Shuttle is re-entering as we speak. I’ve bumped this post to the top of the page.
P.S. Of course, the man’s death is very sad. But personally, I think if it’s your time to go, you might as well go in a way that’ll make it into international “news of the weird” type stories.
I just wonder if his epitaph will quote zoo director Vuk Bojovic: “Only an idiot would jump into the bear cage.”
I know we made an attempt at Fantasy Baseball this season (I can honestly say I haven’t looked at my team once) but I think we should give Fantasy Football a shot.
Let’s face it…Fantasy Football is much easier to manage than Baseball.
I was thinking of keeping it around 10-12 teams. I prefer Yahoo! for fantasy sports. I’d also want to do a live draft. We could figure out a time once we had enough guys (or girls!) in the league. The first 10-12 who respond are in the league.
So if you are interested shoot me an e-mail at marty.west(at)gmail.com and I would be more than willing to set the league up.
I am going to assume Mr. Brendan Loy is asleep, so as a guest blogger I will post this for him, from the 5 AM EDT National Hurricane Center discussion on Dean:
DEAN MADE LANDFALL ON THE EAST COAST OF THE YUCATAN PENINSULA NEAR THE CRUISE SHIP PORT OF COSTA MAYA AROUND 0830 UTC [4:30 AM EDT]…AND THE EYE IS NOW JUST INLAND. OBSERVATIONS FROM AN AIR FORCE HURRICANE HUNTER PLANE INDICATE THAT THE HURRICANE WAS INTENSIFYING RIGHT UP TO LANDFALL. A PEAK FLIGHT-LEVEL WIND OF 165 KT [190 MPH] WAS MEASURED JUST NORTH OF THE EYE. MAXIMUM SURFACE WINDS FROM THE SFMR WERE 124 KT [143 MPH]…BUT IT IS HIGHLY LIKELY THAT THE MAXIMUM SURFACE WIND SPEED WAS NOT REPORTED BY THE SFMR INSTRUMENT. A GPS DROPSONDE IN THE NORTHERN EYEWALL MEASURED A WIND SPEED OF 178 KT [205 MPH] AVERAGED OVER THE LOWEST 150 METERS OF THE SOUNDING. BASED ON THE DROPSONDE AND THE FLIGHT-LEVEL WINDS…THE INTENSITY IS SET AT 145 KT [165 MPH]. A DROPSONDE IN THE EYE MEASURED A CENTRAL PRESSURE OF 906 MB JUST PRIOR TO LANDFALL.
SOME HISTORIC NOTES ARE IN ORDER HERE. THE 906 MB CENTRAL PRESSURE IS THE NINTH LOWEST ON RECORD FOR AN ATLANTIC BASIN HURRICANE…AND THE THIRD LOWEST AT LANDFALL BEHIND THE 1935 LABOR DAY HURRICANE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS AND HURRICANE GILBERT OF 1988 IN CANCUN MEXICO. DEAN IS ALSO THE FIRST CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE TO MAKE LANDFALL IN THE ATLANTIC BASIN SINCE ANDREW OF 1992.
You can find more resources here on this site or on mine, WX-Man.com.
UPDATE BY BRENDAN, 7:37 AM: Thanks, Brian. Here’s a satellite image of Dean at landfall:
Here’s what Dean looks like now, at sunrise:
ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only one way for a hurricane to come ashore at this intensity: it must be approaching the coast quickly at a right angle. If it comes more slowly or more obliquely, land interaction begins before the eye is ashore, and the intensity starts to drop. This happened with Wilma at Cancun. Landfall was painfully slow. Though weakening, the storm was much more prolonged owing to its slow movement, and damage was probably just as severe as it would have been with a Dean.
Fortunately Dean has hit a much less developed area. Costa Maya, mentioned in the report, must have been completely devastated. Though some distance up its estuary, I suspect the city of Chetumal has been hard-hit as well. We will probably hear some sad stories from there. But Chetumal was smashed twice during the 1940Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s and again in 1955. The locals build with concrete now.
Moving rapidly, Dean should be still a hurricane when it emerges on the southern Gulf. It may or may not intensify there, depending on the condition of the core. The steering flow is expected to remain strong, so Dean will not have much time to regenerate before its final landfall. After that it will hit mountains Ã¢â‚¬â€ the corderillas of Mexico. Only clusters of thunderstorms will remain as the pulse of moisture and energy crosses to the Pacific.
Eric Berger has more. And here’s the Wikipedia page on Costa Maya. As Sullivan says, it must have been devastated, especially because it got hit not just by a Cat. 5, but by an intensifying Cat. 5 — the worst-case scenario, as I mentioned before. Those 205 mph winds measured by the dropsonde just above the surface give you an idea of why — those are especially likely, in an intensifying system, to come to the surface in gusts. Yikes.
The echoes are sparse, but you can see Dean’s eye on the Cancun radar.
The photo doesn’t do the sight justice, but here’s a 15-second exposure of the Space Shuttle (left) and the International Space Station (right) flying over Nashville on Monday evening:
If you’re wondering why the Parthenon isn’t in the foreground, as promised, it’s because I realized about 20 minutes before the flyover that the planned picture wouldn’t work: the Parthenon was far too brightly illuminated, and thus would be massively overexposed in any photo with a long enough exposure to capture the Shuttle and ISS. Worse, I was worried the blinding light of the illuminated Parthenon would make it impossible to even see the flyover. So I hastily changed plans, walked outside the circle of klieg lights that shine on the darn thing, and found a dark(er) spot where I could see Cassiopeia (it’s below, and slightly to the right, of the ISS in the photo above), because I knew that would mean I’d be able to see the flyover.
Obviously, if I’d realized the Parthenon idea wasn’t going to work, I could have sought out a location where I wouldn’t have been photographing directly into the light dome of Nashville… but oh well. It was still an absolutely fantastic sight to watch the two spacecraft flying overhead — definitely my best satellite-viewing experience to date. I almost literally started jumping up and down with glee when I saw them both, trailing each other across the sky, and I did literally shout to a pair of random strangers walking by, “Hey! You see those lights flying overhead! That’s the Shuttle and the Space Station!” Hey, I wanted to share it with somebody! :) They were quite appreciative, and thought it was cool too. Anyway, here’s another photo, a 10-second exposure this time:
And here’s one of me, earlier, in front of the Parthenon:
NHC holds Dean at a “possibly conservative” 160 mph as of 11pm. Awaiting more data. I’m at Layla’s Bluegrass Hillbilly & Country Inn.