Smoke won't ruin eclipseAug 10, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
If anything, forecasters say, it could enhance the viewing experience.
Even if the smoke that has been hanging around the Wind River Basin remains in place through the rest of the month, weather officials say the local experience of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse won't be diminished.
In fact, smoky skies may enhance the view.
"(The sun) might be a spectacular orange," National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Jones said. "It wouldn't be all that bad. ... It would provide a whole different color to the eclipse."
A significant weather event like a thunderstorm would create more concern, he said - and not only because it could block the sun.
Jones pointed out that tourists who travel to the path of totality to watch the eclipse are likely to be outdoors Aug. 21 and "in vulnerable situations" like outdoor concerts and crowded campgrounds.
If there is going to be a significant storm potentially involving 60 mph winds, lightning and hail, he said, emergency officials need to know ahead of time so they can help the public move to safety.
Eclipse chasers will be paying attention to the weather too, Jones noted, and if they find out there is going to be cloud cover in a particular area they may move en masse to another location, creating a sudden need for traffic control.
"We don't know how people will react depending on what the forecast is," he said. "What if everyone decides to do the same thing?"
NWS employees will be stationed in Teton, Fremont and Natrona counties for the eclipse in order to help emergency planners prepare for such unanticipated circumstances.
"We'd coordinate with state agencies and a lot of other governmental partners so we all have a good handle on what to expect that day," he said.
Smoke continues to waft into Fremont County this week as a "northwest steering flow" blows haze toward Wyoming from western Montana, NWS meteorologist Dave Lipson said Tuesday.
The pattern is expected to change over the weekend, though, so Lipson said the air may clear by Sunday or Monday - unless winds from the west bring in smoke from other fires.
Lipson said 600,000 acres of land currently is burning in the northern Rocky Mountains.
"So even when the wind is back around to the west, we'll still have smoke from areas like Idaho and the Pacific Northwest," he said.
It's hard to tell what the wind will be doing Aug. 21, but Lipson said regional fires are pretty much guaranteed to still be burning at that time.
"When does the fire go out? When the snow flies," Lipson said. "(That) typically can take place in September, sometimes October."
And as long as the fires continue burning, he said, "you're going to get continuous smoke."
Looking at the forecast two weeks out, however, Lipson was optimistic that Fremont County still will be a good place for eclipse viewing. A couple of days before the celestial event, he said, a trough - or "an elongated area of relatively low atmospheric pressure" according to the NWS - is forecast to travel over the Pacific coast and possibly move inland to quell some of the flames.
Hopefully, Lipson added, the trough won't send any clouds into Wyoming to block the eclipse.
"There's always that chance we could get debris clouds from thunderstorms the day before that might be blowing in," he said. "You can be totally clear and have one little cloud in the way of the sun and that's it (for the eclipse)."
Climatology shows that there is an 80 percent chance the sun will be shining over Riverton during the time when the eclipse takes place, Lipson said.
The percentage is slightly lower in Lander due to that city's proximity to the Wind River Mountains.
"Cumulus clouds typically form (there) in the late morning," Lipson explained. "You want to decrease the chances of clouds ruining the eclipse by being farther from the mountains."