What happens if it's cloudy for the April 8 solar eclipse?

a mostly cloudy sky obscures the sun and a person is below holding a camera up towards the sky.
A photographer takes a picture of the sun through the clouds at the Villarica volcano sky center refuge, in Pucon, Chile on December 13, 2020. (Image credit: MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)
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It's now less than a week until the total solar eclipse on April 8.

While many people will strive to be within the path of totality, where the moon's shadow completely blocks the sun's face. But even if you're within this path, it doesn't guarantee you'll have clear skies on eclipse day. 

So what happens if it's cloudy where you are on April 8? Will you notice anything as the moon's shadow sweeps over you?

That depends on how thick and how extensive the clouds are. Regardless, you will certainly notice some very unusual effects when the moon's shadow passes by. I have had the misfortune of being completely clouded out of two of the 13 total solar eclipses I have journeyed to, and in a third case, I managed to sneak in a view of the corona even though virtually the entire sky was clouded over. 

Related: How to give yourself the best chance of clear skies for April 8's solar eclipse

So, based on those three experiences, here is what you can expect to see if the weather does not work in your favor and you ultimately must utter those two words every eclipse chaser does not want to hear: "Clouded out!"

Passage of the moon's shadow

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Should there be considerable cloud cover on "E-Day," the clouds may actually have an advantage: They will provide a projection screen of sorts to view the rapid approach and departure of the moon's dark umbral shadow. Isabel Martin Lewis described the effect in her 1924 book "A Handbook of Solar Eclipses."

"At the time of eclipse when the shadow of the moon sweeps over us we are brought into direct contact with a tangible presence from space beyond and we feel the immensity of forces over which we have no control," Lewis wrote. "The effect is awe-inspiring in the extreme. In fact, the passing of the moon's shadow, if one is fortunate to observe it, will be one of the most impressive features of the eclipse."

Mid-to-high-level clouds

A partial solar eclipse viewed through the clouds in Winnemucca, Nevada, United States on October 14, 2023. (Image credit: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu via Getty Images)

If your sky is covered with mid-to-high-level clouds — cirrostratus, altostratus and/or cirrocumulus — you will likely be able to see the forward edge of the elliptical shadow move rapidly toward you and then over you just prior to and at the onset of totality. And with its passage may come a remarkable change in the overall quality of light on the surrounding landscape and a dramatic change in the clouds' color. 

On July 10, 1972, at my very first total solar eclipse, my family and I were located just outside Cap-Chat, Quebec, a sleepy Canadian community of 2,000 whose population swelled to nearly 30,000 on eclipse day. The eclipse began under bright sunshine, mixed with some wispy high clouds. But as more and more of the sun became covered, the high cloudiness quickly increased and began to lower so that, at the onset of totality, virtually the whole sky was covered by a swath of battleship-gray clouds. 

But upon the arrival of the moon's shadow, we saw its distinctly sharp edge move in. For those of a certain age who might remember the long-running television soap opera "The Edge of Night," whose opening showed an animation with a line of darkness sweeping over a city, that's exactly what I was reminded of as we were enveloped by the moon's umbral shadow. Once you actually experience it for yourself, it becomes easy to understand why this sight was so terrifying to ancient people. 

Along with the sudden darkness came a change in the clouds' color. Behind the forward-moving edge of the moon's shadow were strange and exotic colors. The dull gray suddenly became yellow-orange and tints you'd see while looking through a beer or iodine bottle. Indeed, along the very edge of the disappearing sun at the start and end of totality, an arc of ruby red or fuchsia associated with the solar chromosphere appeared. It looked bright red because the hydrogen in the sun was emitting a reddish light at high temperatures, and some of this light may become evident in the clouds at the beginning and end of totality.  

Some final comments regarding my 1972 eclipse experience. Despite the heavy cloud cover, we managed to catch sight of the totally eclipsed sun through a fortuitous opening in the overcast sky, some 30 seconds after totality began. As totality was ending, we saw the back edge of the shadow distinctly, projected on the clouds, racing away to the northeast. I remember my grandfather calling out to my grandmother, "Inez! Look, look! It's going that way." Meanwhile, my sister Lisa, taking this all in, said simply, "That was weird!

"Incredible sight!"

Interestingly, in March 1970, during special coverage of the total solar eclipse on CBS TV , correspondent Bill Plante (1938-2022) was stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, under cloudy skies. Yet he was quite attentive to the changes taking place as the lunar shadow swept in. 

"In the last 30 seconds we have witnessed the most incredible sight — in spite of the fact that we cannot see the sun — for it has become as dark as night!" he said. "The light has fallen so quickly, from an acceptable twilight or reading level or cloud-cover level, to virtual night. And just off to the north and to the east, beneath this layer of dark, dark sky, there is a lovely pink and orange horizon; an orange and gold color. We say again, it was just an incredible and fascinating phenomenon, to have the skies go so suddenly dark, in less than 30 seconds, and now we have this totality of an eclipse!"

It sounds like Plante was impressed, despite the clouds.

Just a few clouds  

A total solar eclipse sequence visible against a mostly clear sky. (Image credit: Crimson Cat Studios via Getty Images)

Sometimes, you're lucky enough to get a mainly clear sky. But even then, unfortunately, one of the few clouds in the sky might happen to be in front of the sun during the total phase of the eclipse. 

That happened to me on Oct. 12, 1977, in Colombia, South America. During the 38-second interval of totality, a single rag of cloud drifted in front of the sun. Should something like that happen to you, the best you can do is look around the darkened sky for some of the brighter stars and planets and try to watch for the passage of the moon's shadow. 

As I noted in my personal journal later on, "When totality arrived, virtually the entire sky was clear and the seeing and transparency were close to excellent. We were able to easily see seven stars and were awed at third contact by the passage of the moon's umbral shadow cone retreating rapidly to the east. And in the east, part of a rainbow changed to all red just as totality began. 

"There was only one thing wrong: The sun was behind a cloud! It began encroaching upon the sun a few minutes before totality and left just a minute or two after the sun began to reappear. As if to rub salt into the wound, not another cloud interfered, even as the partially eclipsed sun set behind the Andes! For me, Colombia was Cap Chat in reverse. What goes around, comes around!"

For more on this misadventure, read my colleague Glenn Schneider's comments

Thick, low clouds 

Finally, there is the possibility that on eclipse day, your view will be covered by clouds at low altitudes, generally below 6,500 feet (1,980 meters). They tend to be thick, low, flat clouds that cover large areas and often bring precipitation. 

In December 2021, my wife Renate and I were on board an icebreaker, sailing off the coast of Antarctica, when we encountered the moon's shadow for a total eclipse lasting just over a minute and a half. Unfortunately, our skies were heavily overcast with low clouds and spotty, light precipitation. 

In such a situation, the effects of a total solar eclipse can best be described as being in a lighted room where someone turns a dimmer switch down and then turns it back up, causing the light to return. 

As I noted in my story for Space.com, "Totality lasted 97 seconds. No distinct shadow or cone of darkness was noted. Rather, just an amorphous darkening of the sky — like someone turning down a rheostat or dimmer switch. No colors were seen and the end of totality seemed more pronounced as the light seemed to come back quicker than it when it faded away. During totality, it actually began to drizzle very lightly and a few minutes after third contact it actually started to snow lightly. The air temperature hovered at around 0°C (32°F), but factoring in the winds made it feel noticeably colder."

The moment of totality of the total solar eclipse of 2021 from the deck of the  Le Commandant Charcot in the sea near the coast of Antarctica on Dec. 4, 2021. The sky was clouded out, but is considerably darker and lights can be seen shining on the ship's bridge. (Image credit: Joe Rao)

Final thoughts 

I suppose Antarctica was the most disappointing of all my eclipse experiences; aside from getting dark and light again, there really wasn't much more to see. I hope everyone who positions themselves in the path of the moon's dark shadow will get a clear view of the April 8 eclipse. But as you can see, unless the clouds are low and thick with some rain or snow falling, the moon's shadow racing by and the eerie colors accompanying it should still make for quite a show!

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Joe Rao
Skywatching Columnist

Joe Rao is Space.com's skywatching columnist, as well as a veteran meteorologist and eclipse chaser who also serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Joe is an 8-time Emmy-nominated meteorologist who served the Putnam Valley region of New York for over 21 years. You can find him on Twitter and YouTube tracking lunar and solar eclipses, meteor showers and more. To find out Joe's latest project, visit him on Twitter.

  • FranRouse
    I was lucky enough to live downtown Charleston, S.C. in 2017 and witness the Total Solar Eclipse. It was a sight to see for sure and I hope to see this one. Only thing is now I live near Pittsburgh, Pa. and not in the direct path. And the weather is unpredictable this time of year with rain and still even snow possible. Ive seen a few eclipses in my lifetime and the one thing I want to stress is PLEASE WEAR EYE PROTECTION!!!!!!!!! When I was younger and seen my first one as kids we thought we were invincible and well being Gen X our parents weren't always around and a lot of us didn't have a clue about not looking directly into the sun. And some of us have really bad eyesight and as we get even older it's failing rapidly. I made that mistake back then so my eyes aren't good anymore. In 2017 I wore protection and made sure all my family wore it to witness the Eclipse. And all of them will wear it if we get the chance to see it this time also.