I am always very nervous before a total lunar eclipse. I normally call the symptoms I experience "eclipse fever" because I become nervous, obsessive and worried about one week before such an event. The main reason for this is a very lucky observing streak of total lunar eclipses that I do not want broken; ever (within my lifetime, that is).
I viewed my first total lunar eclipse in the early morning of July 6, 1982, when I was 12 years old. It was the first time that I stayed up much later than my bedtime to observe such an event. I watched the eclipse take place until totality but did not watch it from the end of totality to the end of the eclipse. I have watched all total lunar eclipses from that date onward (the ones where totality was visible within my viewing area, that is).
So, I have not missed any of the total lunar eclipses that could be observed within my viewing area since that date. However, I did come close to missing several; mainly because of unfavourable weather conditions. I had to chase several of them because the weather was not cooperative in my immediate viewing area.
The first time I nearly missed a total lunar eclipse occurred on November 29, 1993. The weather forecast was pessimistic with regards to viewing anything astronomical. The television weather channel (remember, this was just before internet was available) predicted that nobody in the area would be able to see it because of the cloud cover. I decided to try anyway (without attempting to chase it). I was able to view the eclipse to within 10 minutes of totality when the clouds rolled in and totally obscured it. I was worried that I would not see totality at all. Back then, I was not worried about a streak being broken but I was worried that I would not see the totality and obtain decent images of it. The previous total lunar eclipse (on December 9, 1992) was lacklustre and ashen grey because of the recent eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. My first astro-images of a lunar eclipse taken at that time were mediocre because of the absorption caused by the volcanic ash. I wanted better images, and the November 29, 1993 eclipse gave me a great opportunity.
Luckily, about one hour after the clouds rolled in, they rolled out again, exposing a beautiful coppery-pink disk that was once an extremely bright white moon. I began to frantically take images because I had only 20 minutes of totality remaining. The images (on Fuji film!) that resulted were 1000 times better than the previous set obtained in 1992. The wind was high and the temperature was low so it was not very comfortable outdoors.
The next time I would be facing such uncertainty was on January 20-21, 2000. The clouds were thin, but still threatened to obscure the totality. However, I did see totality, so it counted as not missing the event. I did obtain images but in a very cold and bitter wind.
The next time the weather would threaten my viewing of a total lunar eclipse occurred on May 16, 2003. This time, the clouds would slowly thicken over the duration of the eclipse, thus threatening to become thick enough by the beginning of totality to totally obscure the greatly reduced moon brightness. Fortunately, the clouds stopped thickening and remained in the low southern sky long enough to allow me to see totality. However, my images of totality were fuzzy and certainly were not my best.
The first time I had to chase a total lunar eclipse to escape the weather occurred on March 3, 2007. This was the first time I had the opportunity to see the moon rise in totality, however I had to have clear skies to do so. Unfortunately, my location was forecasted to be totally overcast at the time of totality and there was nothing I could do except find a location that had some better probability of a clear or at least a broken sky. I predicted two possible locations in my chase plans: Albany, New York or the middle of Pennsylvania; both about 4 hours from my living area. Eventually, I chose Pennsylvania because I had a (slightly) better probability of clear skies there.
I arrived in Hazleton, Pennsylvania at about 5 p.m.; just after sunset. I could see Venus in the west, but I could not see the totally eclipsed moon because of the evening twilight. However, fate struck when fast-moving clouds rolled in and completely covered the sky. To rub it in, I had to stand under light flurries as I cursed the weather. Fortunately, just as I was about the leave the area to find another possible venue, I could see Venus again in the western sky. I hoped that the clouds would uncover the sky just enough so that I could see the totality, if only for a few minutes. Luckily, the skies cleared and I could see the totally eclipsed moon for nearly an hour; plenty of time to take images through my portable 8-inch telescope. After my final image of totality, clouds rolled in again and I left for home. I was able to see the partially eclipsed moon for much for the journey home. I did not miss totality, but it was a very close call.
Weather threatened yet again to cover totality on December 21, 2010; the winter solstice eclipse. I had to use weather forecasts yet again to get out of the influence of the clouds. This time, I travelled west for two hours to Cobourg, Ontario near a truck stop and a park-and-ride. I caught totality and took images with just my digital camera (without a telescope). This was the last total lunar eclipse before a drought of over three years. The total lunar eclipse after that would be the closest I came to missing the entire spectacle.
I was initially optimistic for the April 15, 2014 total lunar eclipse because the clouds were mainly broken or absent during the first two weeks of April. Long periods of clear sky lasting several days was common. However, I was still nervous due to my past close-calls. As the day approached, I became increasingly nervous about an approaching weather system coming from the west. Two days before the event, the forecast was bleak. A massive weather system caused by an intense temperature gradient was heading my way. This system threatened to stretch from northern Quebec all the way to northern Florida and had a thickness of from the Maritimes to the mid-western United States. Was this the weather system to finally break my over 30-year streak? The forecast for my living area was very poor: overcast with rain changing to freezing rain (yes, on April 14-15).
Within 24 hours of the eclipse, I knew that I had to chase the event yet again. Where could I go? The cloud system was immense and intense. See the satellite image below for an illustration. Unless I was willing to drive 10 hours or more, there was no guarantee that I would catch any glimpse of the eclipse. In fact, the probability of success wherever I went was very low. There were predictions of several viewing holes in southern New York and mid-Pennsylvania (again) but they were smaller than those predicted for the eclipse of March 3, 2007. I was finally facing a very real possibility that I would miss this event. The eclipse began at 1:50 a.m. I left home at 10:30 p.m. the previous day. I was not concerned about missing any of the partial eclipse stages. I was concerned about missing totality.
The immense weather system experienced from April 14-16, 2014 stretched from northern Quebec to Florida with virtually no breaks within. This image courtesy of NOAA (USA) and Environment Canada (Canada). It was doubtful that many living in this area could have viewed any part of the eclipse.
As I headed east toward the Canada/U.S. border, I saw fog, rain and wind. The weather system was very intense. An observation: saying that I am a PhD candidate does seem to get me across the border faster :-). As I drove through much of New York State, the clouds seemed to remain as thick as they were in Canada. However, as I passed Syracuse, I began to see the moonlight through the clouds and the rain had ceased. My hopes were increasing. As I reached Binghamton, New York I could see small holes appear in the clouds. I saw Mars several times, but the moon was still covered. Just after reaching Binghamton, I saw a massive hole appear in the clouds (or what seemed massive relative to what I had seen so far). I could finally see the Moon, which appeared to have an eerie crescent phase by that time; just 20 minutes before totality. I also could see the constellation Scorpius straight ahead of me. As I continued driving to make sure that the hole was large enough to justify stopping, the clouds claimed the sky again. The hole was only about as wide as the local sky and it was travelling quickly because the clouds were moving very fast. The clear break was gone in only 5 minutes, leaving me with the worry yet again that I would miss totality and my viewing streak would be broken: with only 15 minutes to go before totality!
Totality for this eclipse would begin at 3:08 a.m. and end at 4:24 a.m. This would give me 1 hour and 16 minutes to catch a glimpse of totality. The clouds were very stubborn and there was no guarantee that I would see anything after that fleeting moment of hope. I continued driving until I crossed the New York-Pennsylvania border at about 3:30 a.m. I had less than one hour left to view totality.
I finally stopped at "Bennett's Garage and Spring Service" (a plug of sorts) in Harford (not Hartford), Pennsylvania. The link to their web site is included because I somewhat used their property for about an hour. I used my binoculars to scan the sky where the totally eclipsed moon should have been. Mars and Saturn briefly appeared for several seconds, but I did not care about Mars and Saturn at that time. Then, at about 3:45 a.m. I saw a faint pink-brown disk appear in my binocular view! I had seen totality! I stared at it for about one minute before the clouds claimed it. I waited for another break in the clouds, but it never came. I decided to head north back into New York State to see if the large hole in the clouds was still there or at least located along my route home. I never saw the moon at any time from when I left Pennsylvania garage to when I reached the U.S.-Canada border. The clouds were actually thicker and rain was the norm for the entire return trip. I felt extremely fortunate and excited that I was one of the very few in the eastern half of Canada and the U.S. that saw the eclipse (albeit in very small snippets).
The totally eclipsed moon of April 15, 2014 would have looked similar to this image taken by the author on November 8, 2003. This is the same image shown on the home page.
I did not have time to take any images of this eclipse because views were fleeting and far between. This eclipse marked the first time I did not obtain an image of such an event since before December 9, 1992 (I sketched the eclipse of February 1989). I guess this is another type of streak broken. However, I did see the event and that was all I was aiming for.
Some would say that my behaviour during this bout of "eclipse fever" was obsessive and a little idiotic, especially for a 1-minute glimpse of totality. I would agree with such an assessment. However, those who have seen such an event would want to see it again and again, just as I have. Since total lunar eclipses are somewhat rare (one every six months to several years), I would like to view as many as I could in my lifetime.
The eclipse, that I nearly missed by the skin of my teeth, was my 17th total lunar eclipse. I never get tired of them and will endeavour to see as many as I can during my lifetime. I hope to reach 30 of them before I finally leave the Earth (or return to it, whatever the truth is). I plan to view my first total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 but I will have to chase it because of its very slim path through the central United States. The weather will have to be monitored very carefully, as solar totality lasts for a maximum of about 8 minutes (not 1.5 hours)!
The next total lunar eclipse, that can be viewed form North America, occurs in the early morning of October 8, 2014. I am hoping that I will never have to face such an intense weather system again when planning for any future lunar eclipse viewing. One of those is quite enough, thank you.
The Lunar Eclipse that Nearly Wasn't Was Last Modified On April 18, 2014