Could clouds obscure eclipse? It looks unlikely
By Laurel Black
The Paducah Sun
Early forecasts show a chance that clouds that could hamper views of the total solar eclipse Monday, but meteorologists warn against putting too much stock in weather predictions this far in advance.
Cloud cover is more difficult to predict than elements like precipitation or temperature, and the forecast of 40 percent sky coverage throughout Monday could change dramatically, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Spaeth said.
"Cloud forecast is the thing we have the least confidence in overall," he said. "I wouldn't be making hard and fast plans based on the forecast you see today."
Chances of clear viewing conditions in Paducah are 76.7 percent, according to a cloudiness map the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed using historical data.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the day of the eclipse is expected to be partly cloudy, with greater coverage in the morning. There is a small chance of precipitation, Spaeth said.
"As the eclipse is getting going, (there) will hopefully be just a scattering of clouds," he said. "Don't get too worked up over the forecast until you wake up Monday morning."
The partial phase of the eclipse begins around 11:54 a.m. in Paducah. Totality --when the moon completely obscures the sun's disc -- will start at 1:22 p.m. and last 2 minutes and 21 seconds.
Spaeth said the effects of the moon obscuring the sun during the hottest part of the day make it difficult for forecasters to predict Monday's temperature.
"This is a unique situation, as far as our forecast is concerned," he said. "It's a challenge for us."
Historical data from the NWS website shows that Paducah's normal high is 89 degrees on Aug. 21 with a normal low of 66. Thirteen percent of the years from 1938 to 2016 saw rain on that day with the record of 1.03 inches set in 2010. That was also the last year it rained on Aug. 21.
Cloud cover percentage on that date varies from 0 percent, in 2014, to 50 percent last year. The year 2015 saw only 10 percent cloud cover, while 2013 and 2012 saw 20 percent. About 29 percent of August days see no cloud cover, while a quarter see 10 percent.
NOAA compiled 10-year hourly climate data from 2001 to 2010 to create its cloudiness map. The agency reported that coastal areas could be more susceptible to cloudier conditions, and greater cloud cover is more likely east of the Mississippi River. The website lists Carbondale, Illinois, as one of the historically clear locations.
"Ultimately, the cloudiness calculations are based on past observations, which are no guarantee of future outcomes," the agency cautioned.
NOAA's eclipse website, which includes the map of cloud cover probabilities for areas within the path of totality, can be found at ncei.noaa.gov. Local weather updates are available at weather.gov/Paducah, which also offers an interactive eclipse map.