Monday, August 21, 2017

Meteorologist perspectives on #Eclipse2017, and what happened "out east"

Some may call it overrated.

Others a let down.

Others still, a case of bad luck.

A rain cloud in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For many of us that saw it though, it was awe-inspiring and beautiful, even if the partial eclipse was, well, partially eclipsed...

And if you didn't see the actual eclipse, maybe you saw something that you might've overlooked on "just another day." Like this for example...

Iridescence in the clouds as the sun was eclipsed, despite not seeing the eclipse itself. Photo credit: @memphisjq
With a vantage point on the roof of a roughly 50-foot tall building in south Memphis, I was able to avoid the early storms that built over southeast Shelby County, in turn harassing potential viewers in northeast and central Shelby County. While the cumulus field occasionally obscured the view, it also produced pictures like that shown below, which I was able to take, and view, with the naked eye, thanks to the filter provided by the clouds.

Occasionally a clear view provided for a phenomenal perspective of a celestial confluence that won't occur again for nearly 7 years (a brief lull compared to the recent history of such occurrences).

I didn't have professional photographic equipment, and wouldn't have known how to operate it if I did, but I was creative enough to put the eclipse glass against the lens of my fairly-advanced smartphone camera, point it at the subject matter, zoom in, then quickly tap the eclipsed sun to focus and just as quickly tap the shutter button for a quick pic. I got one "decent" shot, shown below.

While my own photographic evidence doesn't nearly stand up to the stunning imagery I have seen shared on social media (some of which I have shared with you on my Facebook and Twitter feeds), it will help me memorialize the event and reinforce my own observations of the first coast-to-coast total eclipse in nearly a century.

What does a meteorologist say "awe" at during an event of this magnitude, without having personally witnessed totality, but something very close?

The progression of the moon across the sun's face over time.

The hard-to-miss dimming of the surroundings that could not be attributed simply to passing clouds.

The passing clouds that seemed to create another inspiring moment each time they parted.

Watching a brand new satellite system, GOES-16, capture the darkness that swept across the nation over a couple of hours, each image frame only 5 minutes apart.

And when light blossoms behind the passing shadow on said satellite loop, realizing that the cumulus clouds built previously by the heat of that same sun have been snuffed out and dissipated after being robbed of their heat source for less than an hour.

Also, images produced by NASA of a space-borne laboratory and living quarters for six brave souls, dwarfed by the object that provides life to this planet, as it it turn is blocked by a moon that is 1/400th its size.

And honestly, seeing all of the excitement and wonder you shared in your pictures and knowing that, for one day anyway, the "awe" was back in science for adults and children alike.
After seeing and hearing about the experience in "totality" however, I have decided to make it my mission to be in an even more awe-inspiring position on April 8, 2024...

So what about the forecast? Why did those in eastern Shelby County get "robbed?"

Well, I must say that our forecast going into the day (which had really not changed to any degree since late last week) was not that far off from a big picture perspective. Overall, conditions were partly cloudy as predicted. And the 20% rain chance that was also predicted materialized, to some folks detriment.

What I didn't catch onto this morning, but there were hints of in morning weather model data, was how quickly the muggy atmosphere would heat up. With a heat index of 103° at the airport by 10am, it was quickly becoming obvious that the combination of heat and atmospheric moisture would result in convective clouds (cumulus - those puffy ones) forming earlier than originally anticipated. I expected some cumulus, but I didn't expect the large build-ups that would produce rain as early as noon. Once those towering cumulus built, there were some who were going to end up with an obscured view of the sky. I had expected that to occur between 1-2pm, not by noon.

I have to give credit where it's due though, even though picking out one model from the bunch to be "the model of choice" is sometimes hard, especially when all the others disagree. The high-resolution North American Model (NAM) from overnight Sunday night was onto something. I even tweeted it early this morning.

However, even it was just a bit late. (How crazy is it that I even stated that it better not "occur an hour earlier." Perhaps a jinx?) The placement of that predicted cell in Shelby County within an hour of it occurring on a 12-hour forecast is an example of just how good these high-resolution models are getting. And sure enough, if I had completely bought into that particular model run, I could've told those in eastern Shelby County when you woke up this morning to find a place a few miles to your east or west for best viewing. But alas.... pinpointing cell placement and cloud cover in a very small region like a handful of counties is still harder than the southern snow forecast.

So, though I can't tell you how much rain you will get and when the next couple of days, I CAN tell you with a high level of confidence that you will find the weather much more PLEASANT beginning Thursday and continuing into the weekend. I for one and looking forward to 60s again in the mornings and low humidity 80s in the afternoons!

Erik Proseus
MWN Meteorologist

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