Smoke-filled skies and cloudy weather across Central Oregon earlier this month caused concern for those hoping to wear their total solar eclipse glasses and get a clear view of the rare celestial event Monday morning.
Early forecasts should ease those fears, at least for the Central and Eastern parts of the state.
The National Weather Service is predicting clear skies, with less than 10 percent cloud cover, for the entire Central Oregon region, including Madras, which is on the centerline of the eclipse’s path of totality.
And favorable fire conditions are expected in the area, as well, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
A weather system off the coast could bring some clouds to Western Oregon on Monday, with about 60 percent cloud coverage on the coast and 10 to 20 percent in the Willamette Valley along the I-5 corridor.
But the Cascades will block that system and keep the skies clear in Central and Eastern Oregon, said Ann Adams, assistant meteorologist for the weather service office in Pendleton.
“There will be some clouds moving in, but I think for the most part they should be getting trapped on the west side of the Cascades,” Adams said.
“That might warrant some people to quickly head over to the east side.”
The celestial event, the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years, is expected to bring an estimated 1 million people to Oregon, including about 200,000 people to the Central Oregon region, where the sky will go dark for more than two minutes inside the path of totality.
For those planning to camp outside Sunday night, temperatures will be chilly in the High Desert, between 40 and 50 degrees, Adams said.
Sleeping through a brisk night will likely be worth it for the campers, when they wake up to mostly cloudless skies, she said.
“We are looking at pretty good viewing conditions for the east side of the Cascades, and barring something like a fire that is going to pour out a lot of smoke, that should stand for right now,” Adams said.
Even if a huge wildfire blanketed the High Desert with smoke, it would not completely ruin the eclipse experience, said Nick Yonker, Oregon Department of Forestry meteorology manager.
Yonker notes that the sun will be high in the sky at 10 a.m. Monday — when the eclipse will occur — and only an extreme fire would send smoke that high.
“It’s hard to really blot out the sun with smoke when it’s high in the sky,” Yonker said. “It would have to be really thick smoke. You wouldn’t want to be outside anyway.”
The Nena Springs Fire, burning 40,000 acres on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and the Milli and Whychus fires, burning nearly 2,000 acres near Sisters, are still active.
At worst, Yonker expects smoke from those fires to give the sky a haze on the day of the eclipse.
The downside to a hazy sky is that it will dim the corona, the sun’s bright light that shines around the moon during the total eclipse, Yonker said.
“If we have smoke or haze, it would probably not give you that nice corona look for that two-minute period,” Yonker said. “It would mute the glow.”
Yonker is mostly concerned with the smoke coming from the British Columbia fires and the 6,569-acre Whitewater Fire burning in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, causing the closure of all trails into popular eclipse viewing spots.
Smoke from the Whitewater Fire is not impacting Central Oregon, but fires from Canada could reach the region Monday.
“There is still a lot of fire up in British Columbia and that last week brought down a lot of smoke to both the east and west of the Cascades,” Yonker said. “We are not out of the woods on that one.”
Greg Svelund, a Bend-based spokesman for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, said the state agency is planning to release a detailed smoke forecast later this week, projecting conditions for the weekend leading up to the eclipse.
Fire and weather conditions are encouraging for now, but Svelund said all it takes is one big fire in the region to fill the sky with smoke, wrecking the moment the sun is totally covered and the circular rim of the corona shines.
“If this continues and there are no more fire starts, we will be in good shape,” Svelund said. “But the Warm Springs fire came up pretty quick. You get one fire in Prineville, Madras or Warm Springs, and the whole thing is blown up.”
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