Unusually Clear Sky Showcases Eclipse


Sight of A Century!

The much-anticipated Great American Eclipse took place Monday afternoon, August 21, becoming the first total solar eclipse to traverse diagonally across the United States in 99 years. In Southwest Florida, where the eclipse achieved 82%, an extraordinarily clear August afternoon made possible the celestial sight of a century!

The skies over Fort Myers Beach were mainly sunny when the eclipse began at 1:21 p.m., with the edge of the moon moving over the Sun from the right. By 1:45, the Sun resembled a cookie from which a child took a good-sized bite! About this time, clouds briefly thickened, turning from white and puffy to semi-dark and slightly menacing, though this proved short-lived, and remained far more clear than cloudy through 2 p.m., when the Sun at roughly 30% coverage through my safety eclipse glasses appeared like a crescent moon. When the eclipse reached 50% at 2:30, it was hard to tell if the moon were covering the Sun or vice versa. Any remaining remnants of clouds disbursed for the remainder of the afternoon, allowing Southwest Floridians to savor the celestial show under bright blue skies!

Coverage reached two-thirds at 2:40 p.m., but in a testament to the strength of the Sun, it was tough to tell if the afternoon light were any dimmer than a typical day in the middle of the rainy season. Within a few minutes, however, when the eclipse exceeded 70%, there was a noticeable dip in daylight. Closing in on the 2:53 peak, there was scarcely a cloud in the sky, with the day looking more April blue than August gloom. At our maximum at 2:53 p.m., only a thin crescent of the Sun was visible.

Partial Eclipse of August 21, 2017. Photos by Michele Kalka.

Watching through safety eclipse glasses, where everything but the still visible part of the Sun is in total darkness, the eclipse looked like a clear crescent moon in the night sky. Interestingly, whether by coincidence or related to the event, the wind died down and there were no animal noises.

By a few minutes after 3, more of the Sun was visible then just a few moments before, indicating how fast the peak eclipse went by. By 3:30, the Sun was three-quarters back, with the day visibly brighter. At 3:45, the Sun was at about 80%. By 4 p.m., the wind picked up and animal sounds returned. The eclipse ended at 4:16 p.m. It was like watching a negative version of the full moon cycle, all 29 nights in less than three hours as the moon moved in front of the sun.

Waffle Ridges & Tree Leaves

As for me, I looked through my eclipse glasses every 6 or 7 minutes, but rarely for more than 30 seconds at a time as a precaution. In addition to eclipse glasses, I tried a couple of other simple and safe suggestions to view the show: I stood with my back to the Sun and placed my separated fingers one hand over the other, creating a waffle pattern, and surprisingly could see a series of eclipses on the waffle-shaped shadow on the ground. When I stood under a tree, hoping the light through the leaves would create hundreds of small eclipses on the grass, I found none! In addition to the stunning sky, the weather seemed ideal for late August, in the high 80s but with a sea breeze that made it feel quite comfortable. It was simply a perfect August afternoon in Southwest Florida!

While eclipse watching may have been big business all over the nation, especially along the line of totality, blocking out over three-quarters of the mid-day sun is not the best recipe for a successful beach day, especially when laying on your back soaking up rays while staring skyward into the literally blinding eclipse sun! Traffic on the island was light. The Bowditch Point Park lot was three-quarters empty, with below average patronage in Times Square and at island watering holes, even when accounting for an offseason Monday.

The last total US eclipse was in 1979, with the last visible in Florida in 1970. A solar eclipse happens somewhere on Earth roughly every 18 months, so the average person may only experience this a few times in their life. The next partial eclipse over Florida will occur on April 8, 2024, when, in a series of cosmic coincidences, it falls on a Monday in nearly the same timeframe, from 1:46 to 4:14 p.m., with its peak at 3 p.m. While it will only be a partial eclipse, enjoy that, because the next total eclipse over Florida does not occur for another 374 years!


Gary Mooney