WA-List » Sunblock: The Next 50 Years of Solar Eclipses in Washington

Sunblock: The Next 50 Years of Solar Eclipses in Washington

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Geography & Geology

The Northwest is not exactly famous for its sunshine. Would we miss it if it was taken away?  Suddenly?  Sure, a miles-thick nimbostratus might darken our skies from time to time and volcanic ash has been known to turn some of our cities’ noontimes to night, but how often does several thousand miles of solid, extra-terrestrial rock come between us and our favorite star?

Not often at all.*  The last total solar eclipse — an astronomical phenomenon caused by the moon passing between the earth and the sun thereby casting a shadow on us — visible from anywhere in the state of Washington happened more than 30 years ago.

I remember that morning, February 26, 1979, because we kids were permitted to linger at home an hour before going to school.  The sun came up somewhere behind the clouds, everything went dark for a few minutes, then daylight resumed.  Had I been with my brother in Maryhill I might have witnessed the moon’s disc slide completely across the sun, banishing daylight and calling back the stars for a few minutes.  But even in overcast Tacoma the peculiar mid-morning nightfall was fascinating.

Many years have passed since then. Will totality strike Washington again soon?  For today’s list we decided to spin the astrolabe 50 years into the future and list all the eclipses that might be visible from here. About twenty partial eclipses are due in that coming half century, starting with one precisely a year from today: Oct 23, 2014.  The best eclipse of the lot, however, will come 34 months later on August 21, 2017.  At about 10:20 that Monday morning, the thin shadow of totality will slide into northern Oregon from the Pacific and roll east and south toward South Carolina.  If you watch from anywhere in Washington, you’ll see a partial eclipse.  With 99% of the sun covered, Vancouver will have an almost total eclipse, but you’d have to venture still farther south — near Salem, Oregon — to be cast into the pits of darkness.**  The two-minutes of totality coupled with the much longer partial eclipse phase fore and aft might be worth the short trip to the Beaver State.  We’ll have a close call with an annular eclipse streaking through Oregon in 2023, too.

FAR FUTURE:  We looked for the holy grail — a total eclipse in the state — but couldn’t find one any time soon.   Not in this century, at least.  The closest after 2017, won’t come until September 14, 2099.  That’s right: 2099!  That’s when a totality shadow will pass through British Columbia north of us.  The main shadow of an annular eclipse, however, will next cross through Washington on July 3, 2094.  It will cut a wide diagonal path from Bellingham to Clarkston and all parts south and west.  The remainder of the state — the north central, northeast, and Spokane areas — will be in the partial shadow.  Another annular eclipse will graze the Longview and Vancouver area Nov 15, 2077.  Each of these three events, of course, involve a very long wait.  It might be best to enjoy the partial eclipse of 2014, plan for the near-total eclipse in 2017, and for goodness sake hope for good weather.


2014 Oct 23 Partial Partial throughout Washington.
2017 Aug 21 Total Partial throughout Washington, but very near total. The path of totality runs horizontally across northern Oregon. Vancouver and Portland will be 99% total; Salem 100%.
2023 Oct 14 Annular Partial throughout Washington. The path of annularity runs through Oregon.
2024 Apr 8 Total Partial throughout Washington.
2026 Aug 12 Total Partial in extreme northeast Washington only, if at all.
2029 Jan 14 Partial Partial throughout Washington.
2033 Mar 30 Total Partial throughout Washington.
2039 Jun 21 Annular Partial throughout Washington.
2040 Nov 4 Partial Partial throughout Washington.
2043 Apr 9 Total Partial throughout Washington.
2044 Aug 23 Total Partial throughout Washington.
2045 Aug 12 Total Partial throughout Washington.
2046 Feb 5 Annular Partial throughout Washington, with the path of annularity ending near the Oregon-Idaho border.
2048 Jun 11 Annular Partial throughout Washington.
2052 Mar 30 Total Partial throughout Washington.
2054 Sep 2 Partial Partial throughout Washington.
2055 Jun 27 Partial Partial throughout Washington.
2056 Jan 16 Annular Partial throughout Washington.
2057 Jul 1 Annular Partial throughout Washington.

*Solar eclipses are not common.   There are typically two or three somewhere in the world during any given year and not all of them are total eclipses.  They might be annular.  That’s when the moon, farther away than normal, isn’t large enough to cover the sun, but manages to block most of its center and  leave a bright ring-of-fire around it.  There are also partial eclipses in which the moon passes above or below and merely grazes part of the sun’s disc.  Even the few that are total reach totality along only a very narrow ribbon of the earth’s surface.  And that ribbon is more likely to cast a shadow across open ocean than any particular landmass.  So it’s a special event when the moon passes in front of the sun where you happen to be.  Most people yearning to see an eclipse must travel.  And hope for good weather when they get there.

**I’m sure being cast into the pits of darkness is not what most visitors expect when they visit Salem.  Or even Eugene.

PHOTO: The corona of the sun during a total eclipse, August, 1905.

SOURCES:  This list was long in the making.  We  first learned of the 2017 eclipse in 1979 — long before WA-List was a household name.  In more recent years, we sifted through various reports and resources that calculated eclipses.  Dates worldwide were easy to come by, but detailed shadows maps were not.  Some maps were excellent in an astronomical sense, but were understandably not designed to be precise down to a state boundary level.  As a consequence, it took some time to determine how close some eclipse shadows approached Washington.  We believe our final list is accurate.  The Astronomy Department at the University of Washington kindly confirmed our dearth of total eclipses through the next century and shared the main shadow tracks of several of our closest encounters.  The best sources for eclipse data that we found online included the US Naval Observatory, the UK Hydrographic Office, the International Astronomical Union, MrEclipse.com, and eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.


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