What happens if it rains during the eclipse in Maine

By Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

The weather along the swath of eclipse totality from Mexico to Maine is a big unknown. What is known is the moon will pass across the sun on April 8 right on schedule even if it’s raining, snowing or cloudy. 

For this eclipse, every location, even sunny Texas, has at least a 50 to 60 percent chance of cloud cover on the second Monday in April. The chance of clouds in Maine is higher, at 70 to 80 percent. So if the weather is terrible will the big event be a bust?

With tens of thousands of visitors expected to gather in parts of Maine to view the eclipse, planners in Houlton and beyond are taking precautions with the expectation the weather will be less than stellar. These include heated tents and a place to view the eclipse on a big screen via a NASA livestream from a high-altitude balloon. The Bangor Daily News will also carry the livestream.

“Even in day-to-day weather you can still get a clear or sunny day when it rains or snows In the five days around it,” said Todd Foisy, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service in Caribou. “It’s safe to say it’s still going to be mud season. We could still get snow in early April, it’s not that unusual at all.”

Foisy said beyond historical weather data it’s still too soon to make any April 8 predictions, but he said trends for the rest of March show about average temperatures and some small weather systems. 

Data from the past 75 years in the Houlton area show a record high of 70 degrees Fahrenheit in 1981 and a record low of minus 5 degrees in 1972. The record rainfall was just under three-quarters of an inch in 1964.

For planners, scientists and eclipse viewers, wondering about the weather is natural since clouds, rain or snow will affect how the eclipse is experienced. 

University of Maine astronomer Shawn Laatsch, who is in charge of a NASA/National Science Foundation eclipse data-gathering project with 35 stations from Texas to Maine, does not seem overly concerned. There are so many variables and so many things to notice during a total solar eclipse.

“It’s a whole body experience and you only need three minutes [of good weather],” said Laatsch, director of the Versant Power Astronomy Center in Orono.

If there are no clouds during totality — when the sun is completely covered by the moon — the sky will appear as twilight all the way around the horizon. It will be dark enough to see some of the brighter stars and planets but not totally night, he said.

But if it is cloudy, it will suddenly be like a very dark night. 

Laatsch will have three data collection teams in Maine — at Jackman, Millinocket and Houlton. And they will be using telescopes and special polarized cameras to look at different angles. The corona is where space weather comes from.and for space travel they need to understand space weather and how the sun affects the earth, he said.

Laatch completed a similar study during the 2017 total solar eclipse and 75 percent of the data collection stations were clear of clouds. And last year, he and a graduate assistant practiced with equipment for the 2024 event at the eclipse in Australia. 

Additionally, a high altitude balloon will be going up above the clouds and livestreaming the eclipse for anyone to see, especially if rain or clouds obscure their view, Laatsch said. 

“Rain will not affect the science. We will still get data and there are a variety of projects, exploring the way animals behave, some places are measuring temperature changes,” he said. 

Another bit of good news comes from recently published data from scientists in the Netherlands, indicating that when the temperature changes during the eclipse, cumulus clouds — those cotton-like formations that sometimes hold rain — dissipate. 

And Houlton planners said they are ready rain, snow or shine. 

“That’s why we rented four giant heated tents. They will be downtown, at the airport, behind the Chamber of Commerce building and in Community Park,” said Johanna Johnston, head of eclipse planning and executive director of the Southern Aroostook Development Corp. “There will be places undercover in addition to the Temple Theater on Market Square.”

The high altitude balloon live stream of the actual eclipse will be shown inside the Temple Theater. 

“We just don’t know, but come here for the party anyway,” Johnston said.

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