The grand spectacle of a total solar eclipse is traditionally accompanied by many other rare events. The midday air cools and stills. Birds stop singing and prepare for night. Words like “syzygy” leap off the Scrabble board and into the vernacular. Godfathers are obligated to grant favors.
But this time, many skywatchers are wondering whether there will be an additional participant (or participants) in the cosmic dance. Will the shadow of the eclipse fall on tropical activity in the Atlantic Ocean?
It may sound like the plot of a direct-to-airplane movie in which Z-list celebrities wield chainsaws, but there is a good chance that at least one tropical storm or hurricane will be within the region of 50% or more solar obscuration on Monday afternoon. Should this occur, it would be the first time an Atlantic tropical system has coincided with a total eclipse since the beginning of regular weather satellite imagery in 1966.
That fact foremost speaks to the true rarity of total eclipses.
Over the past 50 years, just five total solar eclipses have crossed the Atlantic during the June-to-November hurricane season, and the tropics have been inactive during all five events.
Two things make the timing and track of the 2017 eclipse special from the perspective of a potential hurricane-eclipse conjunction. First, this is the first eclipse in 50 years to occur during the most tropically active two-month period between Aug. 15 and Oct. 15. Second, after leaving the U.S., the path of totality will cross from the Carolinas south and east into the Main Development Region of the eastern Atlantic, prime territory for tropical cyclones in late August.
So, the odds of an Eclipse-o-cane are better than average in 2017, but are they ever in our favor?
I used the National Hurricane Center’s HURDAT2 dataset of hurricane climatology to take a snapshot of all recorded tropical cyclone activity occurring at 2 p.m. ET on Aug. 21 for every year since 1900. If a total eclipse occurred every year at that time, in only two of the 117 theoretical eclipses would totality have intersected the center of a tropical storm or hurricane.
Oddly enough, one of those cases is Andrew, which on Aug. 21, 1992, was a tropical storm north of Puerto Rico with 60 mph sustained winds.
However, there are around 15 and 40 historical instances in which an Aug. 21 tropical cyclone was within 2017’s 90% and 50% eclipse bands, respectively.
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SOURCE: USA Today; WeatherTiger, Ryan Truchelut