Here at the Tupelo CVB, we are well equipped to speak on a plethora of topics ranging from Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich (peanut butter & banana, thank ya very much) to the number of hotel rooms we have in town (1,900). However, when it comes to astronomical events like the upcoming total solar eclipse Monday, August 21, we’re at a bit of a loss. In order to figure out how the upcoming total solar eclipse is going to affect Tupelo, we had to bring in an expert.
Everyone meet Joel Young, local meteorologist at WTVA.
Joel, meet everyone.
The following is a Q & A we had with Joel in regards to the total eclipse and what anyone in Tupelo during the eclipse can expect to experience. Enjoy! (Some of the interview has been edited for content and clarity.)
Tupelo CVB: Could you describe what people in Tupelo can expect to experience or see during the eclipse? I know we’re not going to be in the range of totality or whatever they’re calling it, but we’re pretty close and should see some decent coverage, right?
Joel: Though Tupelo will not be in the line of totality, this solar eclipse will still be unforgettable for anyone watching in our area. From our perspective at peak eclipse, about 92 percent of sunlight will be blocked. There will be some darkening of the sky, and some animals may begin to behave differently. But without protective eyewear, you’re not only putting yourself in danger of permanent eye damage; you’re not going to see much change. Even for those who live just outside of the line of totality at 99 percent coverage, just one percent of sunlight will drown out the breath-taking view that will be seen by those who see 100 percent coverage.
CVB: What kind of protection will people need in order to be able to take a look up at the sky during the event?
J: Protective eyewear is a must for anyone who wants to get the most out of their solar eclipse experience in Lee County. These solar eclipse glasses can be purchased at some local retailers, as well as online. However, it’s important to be make sure the glasses are safe. Beware of scams. According to NASA, you should refer to the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Reputable Vendors of Solar Filters & Viewers webpage for a list of manufacturers and authorized dealers. Each pair should be compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard. Once you have your glasses, make sure they are not scratched or damaged.
(FYI: I pulled some of that almost word for word from this site: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety)
If you look through the glasses inside the house and can see anything, they’re not safe. Even some of the brightest lights in our television studio are difficult to see through these glasses.
Also, even a split-second glance directly at the sun can spoil your experience. The resulting blue or green spot made visible to the shut eye could last a few minutes, blocking your view of the eclipse when you put the glasses on. So don’t even think about looking at it with the naked eye. It isn’t worth it, even if you’re lucky enough to somehow avoid permanent damage. It could ruin the fun all together.
Taking pictures of the eclipse is also discouraged. Camera lenses are just as vulnerable to direct sunlight as our eyes. Solar filters are necessary if you’re trying to take pictures of the eclipse in our area. My advice is to enjoy the moment. Soak in the energy of the people around you, and document people’s reactions with pictures and video. Don’t try to photograph the direct sunlight. The picture won’t do it justice, and you’ll just end up with a damaged camera.
CVB: A few similar questions in a row here. What time will the eclipse happen in Tupelo? How long can we expect the event to last? How dark do you believe it will get?
J: The eclipse process will last almost two hours, beginning around 11:55 a.m. and ending around 2:53 p.m. We start out with one percent coverage as the moon begins to move in front of the sun. Then at about 1:26 p.m., we will reach mid-eclipse. This is when we will see 92 percent coverage. From that point until the end of the process, we will see less coverage.
Keep in mind, I’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse personally. But from what I’ve researched, and heard from others who have, 92 percent coverage should lead to some dimming of the sky similar to what we would expect shortly before sunset. Any cloud coverage will lead to a darker sky. But it could also block the view for those looking directly at the sun through the protective eyewear.
CVB: What kind of weather conditions can we expect on the day of the eclipse? How will this affect viewing?
J: So basically, we’re being optimistic… Rain chances and cloud coverage appears to be somewhat typical for a mid-late August afternoon. Unfortunately, that means it’s relatively unpredictable. We usually see pop-up storms this time of year, and they’re often during the afternoon hours–right when the eclipse will be happening.
HOWEVER–There are a few points that might be encouraging.
1. Usually, if we ever see 100% overcast conditions this time of year… It’s in the morning, and we usually clear out by noon.
2. Pop up storms may spoil the event for a brief period of time. But those storms are usually surrounded by sunshine. If a storm pops up, you might be able to move to another location where the sun is shining.
3. Since we’re not expecting totality at all, you have about 2 hours to wait for that cloud or storm to move out of the way… And you can sometimes count on that with storms around here in August–they don’t last long. If you’re in the line of totality, sure–you might see the partial eclipse. But totality only lasts for about 2 to 3 minutes. Just one thunderstorm, or even just one pesky cloud, could ruin it all for you. And there’s no flexibility on moving from one spot to the other in that case.
Here’s an infographic guide to the eclipse from timeanddate.com
CVB: Any good places in mind for people to have a view of the eclipse in Tupelo?
J: For anyone wanting to view the eclipse in Lee County, I would encourage people to take advantage of some of the great city parks we have in Tupelo. Enjoy the historic event with others.
If you’re traveling to the line of totality, there will be a lot of difficulty. Millions of people from all over the world will be traveling to this small area, and most hotels have been booked in these areas for months. Whatever lodging is available is likely going to be expensive. Try to find a friend or family member who lives in these areas, and travel a day or two in advance to avoid traffic. To put this into perspective, Missouri’s Department of Transportation is expecting over a million additional motorists on their roadways in one single day.
As for the best places along that line of totality, and even here at home… There are a few climate maps out there that show the amount of cloud coverage each area sees on average for that single day each year. Our area usually sees 30 percent cloud coverage, which is decent for viewing. In the line of totality, the best chances of seeing less cloud coverage will extend from the Front Range of the Rockies to the Tennessee Valley.
CVB: How are you and WTVA preparing to cover the event?
J: We are very excited about this event at WTVA, and we plan to cover every single angle of it. You can find all kinds of information about this event in the eclipse section of our website: wtva.com/eclipse.
As we lead up to the event, WTVA 9 News and WLOV will air an eight part series from August 13 to August 20 addressing all these things and more. On Sunday, August 20, I will be hosting a 30 minute preview special called The Darkest Hour. Then, the day of the eclipse, we will have reporters and experts scattered all across North Mississippi, as well as the line of totality, taking you to the epicenter of the excitement.
So make sure to stay tuned to more information on when you can catch these events. And remember, the eclipse section of our website will provide interactive maps and simulations of the event.
This marks the end of the Q & A.
Wow! We’d really like to thank Joel for taking the time to answer our questions about the upcoming eclipse. The man brought some serious details.
Please, please, please remember to wear protective eyewear if you plan on getting a look at this monumental event, your eyes will thank you.
If you have interest in traveling to an area that is within the line of totality from Tupelo, Contour Airlines provides quick, inexpensive, and direct flights to Nashville, TN, where you can experience the event at 100 percent coverage.
Welp, that’s it! We certainly learned a lot and hope you did as well.