Your eyes will fry under normal sunglasses during 2017 eclipse, here’s why

The  nation is preparing for the celestial pageant of a century.

On Aug. 21, the first total solar eclipse in 99 years to cross the nation coast-to-coast will paint a dark path from Oregon to South Carolina.

That means buying special eclipse glasses because normal sun glasses – even those with the darkest lenses – aren’t enough to protect eyes from damaging rays.

It’s not that the sun is any stronger during an eclipse, but where you would squint, blink and turn away from the full sun on a normal day to protect your eyes, it can be more comfortable to look at the sun as the moon moves over the bright disk.

Related: Fake eclipse glasses are “flooding” market, astronomy group says. 

“A solar eclipse should never be watched the same way we should not stare at the sun,” said Alberto Ortiz, an ophthalmologist with Mittleman Eye in West Palm Beach. “It causes toxicity to the retina and can even cause permanent vision loss.”

Damage to the eye may not be immediately noticeable, but can occur later with blurred vision or  complete loss of sight, Ortiz said.

Related: Best places to see the 2017 solar eclipse.

Credit: NASA

While Palm Beach County is hundreds of miles from the path of totality, which stretches from South Carolina to Oregon, it will still experience 81 percent of the sun being obscured.

The moon will start to pass over the sun at 1:25 p.m. in West Palm Beach, with the maximum eclipse happening at 2:57 p.m.

Related: How Floridians can watch the Aug. 21 solar eclipse.

Rick Fienberg, the press officer for the American Astronomical Society, said ordinary sun glasses transmit 10 to 20 percent of the light that falls on them.

This makes the landscape on a bright sunny day easier to look at without squinting, and cuts down on glare.

Eclipse glasses allow just 0.0001 percent of the light that falls on them through.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

“That’s at least 100,000 times darker than ordinary sunglasses,” Fienberg said. “Nothing can get through such glasses except the sun itself – just enough to be comfortable for viewing.”

The only time it’s safe to look at the eclipse is if you are in the path of totality and the fleeting moments when the sun is completely covered by the moon.

Related: Check your eclipse forecast.

About 12 million people live in the path of totality for the Aug. 21 eclipse. Millions more will travel to get into the path.

“The sun can be viewed safely with the naked eye only during the few brief seconds or minutes of a total solar eclipse,” NASA says on its eclipse website. “Do not attempt to observe the partial or annular phases of any eclipse with the naked eye.”

It is only safe to view a solar eclipse with the naked eye when you are in the path of totality and the moon completely covers the sun. Credits: © 2005 Miloslav Druckmüller (used by NASA with permission)

Proper eclipse glasses are marked with ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the numbers 12312-2.

Some older solar-viewing glasses may meet previous standards for eye protection, but not the new international standard, Fienberg said.

NASA recommends glasses from the companies Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17.

Download the Palm Beach Post WeatherPlus app here.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate,, said it’s a good idea to practice putting the glasses on with children before the eclipse.

“Absolutely make sure the eye protection is clearly on top of the eyes of the child,” Zurbuchen said. “It’s not good to look at the sun when it’s just in the sky and it’s not good when it’s only half or three-quarters covered. The only time it’s OK to look at the sun is when it is entirely covered by the moon.”

A solar eclipse seen from space.

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Your 2017 solar eclipse forecast

The first total solar eclipse to cross the entire continental U.S. in 99 years is Aug. 21 – two months from today.

And besides being in the path of totality – where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s atmosphere – the other biggest factor in whether you will see the eclipse is the weather.

Related: Unique heat-activated eclipse stamps now available.

To easily access your weather for that day, the National Weather Service has posted this website where you can plug in your Zip code or city to instantly get your forecast.

Path of 2017 solar eclipse

Of course, because the weather service puts out detailed forecasts seven days out, the precise Aug. 21 forecast won’t be available until Aug. 15.  That’s why you might want to check the climatology of where you will watch the eclipse in case you need to find a Plan B.

Related: Best places in Florida and U.S. to see the 2017 solar eclipse

For an even more wide view, the Climate Prediction Center puts out extended probability outlooks on precipitation and temperature. In its forecast for July, August and September, the center shows near normal amounts for most of the U.S.

Precipitation for July, August and September.

Normal rainfall for coastal Palm Beach County in August is about 8 inches, but that doesn’t tell much about what the weather will be like on Aug. 21.

Check The Palm Beach Post radar map.

What might most impact the weather that afternoon are South Florida’s sea breeze-initiated thunderstorms.  Palm Beach County should start to see the eclipse at 1:25 p.m., with the maximum eclipse happening about 3 p.m.

Best places to see Great American solar eclipse

At no other time in U.S. history has the summer climatology of a narrow strip of land spanning from the salt marshes of South Carolina to the rugged coast of Oregon been under such scrutiny.

In a 70-mile wide path on Aug. 21, day will turn to night as the moon slips between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow that will create the first total solar eclipse to travel sea to shining sea in 99 years.

Prime viewing of the celestial ballet can be pricey for anyone outside the path, but no amount of money can buy the key ingredient to a successful show — clear skies.

Related: Check your eclipse forecast

“The most important thing is what will the weather be like,” said Vanessa Griffin, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Satellite and Product Operations. “If you are looking at the coasts, you will see more clouds because of higher humidities.”

That’s why for hardcore eclipse chasers, it wasn’t enough to just find a seat in the path of totality. The climatological history was also a consideration that ruled out many cities, such as Columbia, S.C., which has just a 44 percent chance of clear skies despite being in the path of highest impact, according to the National Centers of Environmental Information, or NCEI.

West Palm Beach, FL…The moon obscurs a little more than 51 percent of the sun at 5:24 p.m. Friday during a partial eclipse. Staff photo by Allen Eyestone

Palm Beach County is hundreds of miles from the path of totality. It will still experience 81 percent of the sun being obscured, with the first bite taken at 1:25 p.m. and maximum eclipse happening at 2:57 p.m.

But the chances of clear skies are just 50 percent.

Thank South Florida’s reliable summertime thunderstorms for that. The afternoon storms build with the sea breeze, making a 3 p.m. viewing time less than ideal.

Related: Heat-activated eclipse stamps now available

“Some of this has to do with the time of day that the eclipse is passing over the cities,” said Ronald Leeper, a research associate with NCEI. “In the afternoon, you just have more clouds in general, and it will hit the eastern half of the U.S. in the afternoon”

Leeper worked with cloud data collected from surface weather observation stations throughout the U.S. to compile an interactive map of areas most likely to have clear skies on Aug. 21. The stations gather five types of cloud cover: clear (no clouds), few, scattered, broken, and overcast.

Interactive map:

What he found was coastal areas in Oregon and South Carolina are more likely to have cloud cover than sweeping swaths of the Intermountain West.

In fact, if historical conditions hold true, towns such as Rexburg, Idaho, Casper, Wyo., and Lincoln, Neb., Are better bets for seeing the eclipse.  Full solar eclipses viewable from populated areas are rare. The last full solar eclipse in the U.S. was in 1979, but it only covered five states.

  • The last coast-to-coast US total solar eclipse was 1918.
  • The last continental or contiguous US total solar eclipse was in 197
  • The last total solar eclipse anywhere in the US (Hawaii) was 1991
  • The next total solar eclipse in the US is 2024
  • The next coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the US is 2045

“Experts will tell you to stay mobile,” said Deborah Byrd, editor-in-chief of the online astronomy magazine Earth and Sky. “I’ve rarely viewed a total or annular eclipse without having to be in the car at the last moment chasing down a hole in the clouds.”

Historical cloudiness for Aug. 21, 2017 eclipse.

The Pacific Northwest will first see the eclipse at about 10:15 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. A 90-minute journey will take it across the U.S. where South Carolina will be the last to see it beginning in Clemson at 2:37 Eastern Daylight Time.

About 12 million people live within the narrow path of the total eclipse, which includes the capitol cities of Salem, Ore., Lincoln, Neb., Jefferson City, Mo., Nashville, Tenn., and Columbia, S.C.

The farther away from the path of totality, the less the moon will cover the sun.

 

According to Leeper’s climatology, Key West has the highest chances for clear skies on Aug. 21 at 78.7 percent. Fort Myers is second with a 68 percent chance of clear skies.

The next North American total solar eclipse will be on April 8, 2024, and will begin in Mexico, make its way through Texas to Maine and eventually end in Canada.

“If you can possibly get into the eclipse path, take the family, take the kids, because it will be one of the most amazing natural phenomena that you will ever see,” said retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, who has traveled to see 27 solar eclipses but was clouded out seven times.

In 2012, Espenak took his family to Australia to see a total solar eclipse. Clouds moved in as the moon took its place between Earth and sun. Totality was supposed to last two minutes. Espenak caught three seconds of it between breaks in the clouds.

He said it was still breathtaking.

“It is so nice to see people interact with climate data and be able to use it to help them make decisions,” Leeper said. “I would recommend having a Plan A and Plan B.”

Cities in the path of the eclipse:

Unique heat-activated solar eclipse stamps issued today

The U.S. Postal Service is releasing its unique solar eclipse stamp today that change images when touched.

The Total Solar Eclipse Forever stamp is the first from the post office to use heat-sensitive thermochromic ink. When the new stamp is touched, its image changes from a blacked out sun with a silvery corona to a bright picture of the pockmarked moon.

The new stamp shows an image of the total solar eclipse, but changes to a full moon when touched.

“It’s the first interactive stamp,” said Alan Bush, a West Palm Beach philatelist who buys stamp collections. “It’s fascinating and should be more of a draw for the public than your typical Donald Duck or Elvis stamp.”

The stamp celebrates the Aug. 21 full solar eclipse — the first show of totality in the U.S. in 38 years.

In a swath of the country from Oregon to South Carolina, darkness will reign in the middle of the day for a full two minutes and 40 seconds as the moon slips between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow 70 miles wide.

Back of Total Solar Eclipse stamp

The stamp release will occur at the University of Wyoming at 3:30 p.m. during a first-day-of-issue ceremony that will include Fred Espenak.

Espenak, an astrophysicist known as Mr. Eclipse, took the photos used for the stamp. The image of the full eclipse is from a March 29, 2006, event seen in Jalu, Libya. When warmed by touch, the image turns to the full moon and reverts to the solar eclipse as it cools.

On the back of the stamp is the track of the solar eclipse across the U.S.

“If you can get into the path to see the total phase of the eclipse, it is unlike any natural phenomenon anyone has ever seen before,” Espenak said. “It’s something that should be on everyone’s bucket list, and I’m happy they are coming out with a stamp to raise public awareness about this opportunity.”

Espenak, who has seen 20 total solar eclipses, said the postal service contacted him this past summer for suggestions about the stamp. The photo of the full moon used in the stamp was taken from Espenak’s home in Portal, Arizona.

More information from the postal service on purchasing or ordering the stamps:

The Total Eclipse of the Sun stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp, which is always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail 1-ounce price.

Ordering First-Day-of-Issue Postmarks

Customers have 60 days to obtain the first-day-of-issue postmark by mail. They may purchase new stamps at their local Post Office, at usps.com/shop, or by calling 800-782-6724. They must affix the stamps to envelopes of their choice, address the envelopes to themselves or others, and place them in a larger envelope addressed to:

FDOI – Total Eclipse of the Sun Stamp
USPS Stamp Fulfillment Services
8300 NE Underground Drive, Suite 300
Kansas City, MO 64144-9900

After applying the first-day-of-issue postmark, the Postal Service will return the envelopes through the mail. There is no charge for the postmark up to a quantity of 50. There is a 5-cent charge for each additional postmark over 50. All orders must be postmarked by Aug. 20, 2017.

Ordering First-Day Covers

The Postal Service also offers first-day covers for new stamp issues and Postal Service stationery items postmarked with the official first-day-of-issue cancellation. Each item has an individual catalog number and is offered in the quarterly USA Philatelic, online at usps.com/shop, or by calling 800-782-6724. Customers may request a free issue of USA Philatelic at usps.com/philatelic, by calling 800-782-6724, or by writing to:

U.S. Postal Service
USA Philatelic Request
PO Box 219014
Kansas City, MO 64121-9014

Philatelic Products

Philatelic products for this stamp issue are as follows:

  • 475306, Press Sheet with Die-cut, $62.72.
  • 475310, Digital Color Postmark Keepsake, $9.95.
  • 475316, First-Day Cover, 93-cents.
  • 475321, Digital Color Postmark, $1.64.
  • 475329, Protective Sleeve, 25-cents.
  • 475330, Ceremony Program, $6.95.
  • 475333, American Commemorative Collectible Panel, $10.95.

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.