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Cloudy skies could obscure solar eclipse in parts of US — but there is still hope

Cloudy skies could obscure views of the much-anticipated solar eclipse on April 8 for large swaths of the zone of totality, which stretches across Texas to Maine, according to early forecasts — but experts say there is still hope.

More than 30 million Americans are expected to view the celestial spectacle Monday, and clear skies are “literally the most important part of viewing the eclipse,” according to Fox Weather meteorologist Dax Clark.

But early forecasts suggest some viewers inland, in places like Ohio and Indiana may be battling clouds.

Map of the United States showing the path of the total solar eclipse from Mexico's Pacific coast to Canada's maritime provinces
The zone of totality for the April 8 total solar eclipse and the expected number of people who will brave possibly cloudy skies for a chance to see the once-in-a-lifetime event.

“Once you get past Paducah [Kentucky], St. Louis [Missouri], getting closer to Indy [Indianapolis] and Cleveland, that’s where we are talking about clouds increasing quite a bit. Could be a concern in the path of totality,” Clark told The Post.

If the sky is obscured by clouds, viewers may not be able to view the magnificent stages of the eclipse, such as first contact, when the Moon first takes a bite out of the Sun, and the diamond ring that occurs just before totality.

The sky will then get as dark as night in the 115 mile-wide zone of totality that stretches from Mexico, through Texas and up across New England into Canada.

Skywatchers further east, including New York, could be a little luckier, Clark said.

The eclipse will cover large swaths of Western and Upstate New York between 2 and 4:30 p.m. on Monday.

“Right now, upstate New York is trending a little bit better. That’s one of the areas that we’ve seen swing the other way in terms of cloud cover. From Syracuse up through northern Vermont, Burlington, and especially into Maine — looks like pretty good viewing for now,” the meteorologist said.

“The further west you go towards Buffalo, like I said, Detroit, Cleveland, a little more cloudy there. It’s a little more iffy in that part of the country,” he added.

The areas of the US with the highest chance of sunny skies stretched from Dallas through Arkansas and Missouri into southern Illinois, Clark said.

However, Clark cautioned that long-term forecasts should be taken with a grain of salt, highlighting that the forecast is “going to kind of ebb and flow, honestly right up until we get to it.”

“So it’s been kind of evolving, some of the areas where we were not seeing as much in the way of cloud cover in the data earlier in the week are now trending a little bit less,” he said, six days ahead of the rare astronomical event.

Even if the skies are cloudy, it is not safe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. Johnny Horne/Special to The Fayetteville Observer / USA TODAY NETWORK

As such, people who live within driving distance of the zone of totality and have not yet made expensive plans may be better off deciding where to watch the eclipse early Monday morning — although expected heavy traffic will also be another consideration.

“Really the day of is kind of the best time [to make last minute plans], six to 12 hours out is about as concrete as you’re going to get,” Clark said.

“Outside of that, 24 hours, you’re still kind of taking a gamble, it’s kind of risky when it comes to the forecast, especially closer to the Great Lakes region,” the forecaster said.

It can also pay to be flexible right up until the last minute.

In 2017, Rick Stepp drove from his Atlanta home to South Carolina to watch a total solar eclipse in the zone of totality at a fairground filled with revelers.

After the initial stages of the eclipse, sunny skies gave way to a storm system — but pockets of clear skies were visible on the horizon, which persuaded Stepp to bolt to his truck and roll the dice.

“It was probably 45 minutes before the actual full eclipse, and those clouds started rolling in. And at that point, we were like, ‘ok let’s go find a place where we can get this to work,'” recalled Stepp, 52.

“We went probably about 15 miles north of where we were,” he said, and pulled over after outrunning the clouds just in time for a great view of totality.

“It’s only a four-and-a-half minute event. If you get a break in the cloud cover during that time, you’re good to go, but if not, you know, clouds are tricky,” said Clark.

Of course, specialized protective glasses will be needed for anyone trying to view the eclipse, even if the sun is shrouded in clouds.