With interest rapidly building for the upcoming total solar eclipse in the USA on 2017 August 21, I became curious about the rarity of total eclipses in America. The very first total eclipse I witnessed was on 1970 March 7. The path of totality crossed the southeastern USA and included portions of Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia and Nantucket.
Another total eclipse was visible in the USA from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota) on 1979 February 26. Although a total eclipse was seen on the Big Island of Hawaii on 1991 July 11, no other total eclipse is visible from the lower 48 states of the USA between 1979 and 2017 – a lapse of over 38 years!
Map 1 shows the path of all total (and annular) eclipses through the continental USA during the last 50 years of the 20th century. Besides the 1970 and 1979 eclipses, the only other USA total eclipses during this period were on 1963 July 20 (Alaska and Maine) and 1954 June 30 (Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan).
Map 2 shows all total (and annular) eclipses through the continental USA during the first 50 years of the 21st century. Looking beyond 2017, the next total eclipse through the USA is on 2024 April 8 and crosses 13 states (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine). The total eclipse of 2044 August 23 crosses Montana and North Dakota. It is followed one year later by the total eclipse of 2045 August 12, which also crosses 13 states (California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida). Although a total eclipse occurs on 2033 March 30, it is only visible from northern Alaska.
If we only count total eclipses visible from the lower 48 states, we have 4 eclipses from 1951 to 2000, and 4 more from 2001 to 2050. Put another way, there are 8 chances to view a total eclipse from the USA in the period spanning just over a single lifetime. And that’s not even considering the fact that cloudy weather will likely hide half of them from view! Rare events indeed! And one more argument not to miss the Great American Total Eclipse of 2017.
But what if we look many centuries into the future? Does every one of the lower 48 states get a total eclipse in the next 1000 years? Map 3 shows the result of plotting the path of every total eclipse from 2001 through 3000. The country is almost completely covered by eclipse paths. Nevertheless, there are few unlucky locations that do not get a total eclipse over the next 1,000 years. Two examples include western Texas and southern New Mexico. Fear not because they will all eventually fall within the Moon’s shadow sometime. You just have to wait long enough.
There is something compelling about the pattern of eclipse tracks crossing familiar places many hundreds of years in the past and future. It was this fascination that inspired me to publish a new book “Atlas of Central Solar Eclipses in the USA.”
- More Information
- Atlas of Central Solar Eclipses in the USA
- Total Eclipses in the USA – EclipseWise.com
- Annular Eclipses in the USA – EclipseWise.com
- Eclipses During 2016 – EclipseWise.com
- Total Eclipse of the Sun: August 21, 2017 – EclipseWise.com
- Eclipse Bulletin: Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 August 21 – Astropixels Publishing
- Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 – Astropixels Publishing
- Total Eclipse or Bust! A Family Road Trip – Astropixels Publishing