August 17, 2017

The Best Place to View the Total Eclipse in the U.S.: Salem, Oregon and Vicinity

We are now close enough to the eclipse to have great confidence in the weather forecasts and the expectations regarding wildfire smoke.  Computer models are in substantial agreement and forecast uncertainty is far less than a few days ago.

The conclusions one draws from the predictions are clear:

Salem, Oregon and the adjacent areas in the Willamette Valley of Oregon will offer the best viewing in the entire nation..  

Clear skies and smoke-free air, resulting in exceptional viewing conditions.   And it has the added benefit of being near a major interstate (I5) and several large roads (99E, 99W).

Let me show you why western Oregon's Willamette Valley offers such good viewing.  Let us begin by reviewing the path of totality over the U.S.--a  curving path stretching from northern Oregon to south Carolina.

Here is the total cloud forecast from the European Center model, one valid at 11 AM PDT on Monday, August 21st.  A red line shows the path of totality.  Lots of clouds in Great Plains and mixed clouds in the southeast.  Only the section over Oregon is completely clear.

A blow-up of the cloud situation in Oregon shows the predicted cloud-free conditions for northern Oregon.   Only the coastal zone is potentially problematic, with some low stratus clouds.

What about visibility?  Moist air can result in enhanced particle sizes and precipitation is clearly bad for eclipse viewing.    

Here is the visibility forecast for the U.S. at the same time from the ECMWF model (which does NOT include smoke).  Degraded visibility in the southeast U.S. and central U.S.  The best visibility (white color) in the Willamette Valley and SW Oregon (see blow up map for more detail)

Finally, there is wildfire smoke and unfortunately, there are a lot of fires going on right now over the western U.S. and plenty of smoke.   For those viewing on the eastern slopes of the Oregon Cascades and in eastern Oregon, a veil of smoke will be present and will undermine clarity to some degree.   As shown below, there are a number of fires burning over Oregon and particularly in the areas of totality (north of Bend):

The current satellite observations of smoke impacts (actually atmospheric optical depth) indicates smoke over the Northwest, particularly eastern Oregon (see blow up below).  But if you look carefully, once sees that the Willamette Valley is virtually smoke free.

The Canadian Smoke model's 48h forecast for Friday at 5 PM PDT is showing plenty of smoke eastern Oregon, but not on the west side.  Lots of smoke over the eclipse path of eastern Wyoming and Nebraska.

I could you show you other models, but the answers are the same:  The northern Willamette Valley around Salem will offer the best and most reliable viewing of the 21 August total eclipse of anywhere in the nation.  

You don't like models and want to get the predictions of my colleagues at the National Weather Service.   Here is their prediction for % cloud cover at 11 AM on Monday.  By far, the lowest percentage (5%) is in the Willamette Valley.

A blow-up map confirms this.  Salem is 5%.

 So if you are in Seattle, Portland, and California, western Oregon should be wonderful to get an optimal view of the total eclipse.

The big question, of course, is traffic.    I suspect the big traffic issue won't be before the event (since folks will getting into position over several days).  It is after the eclipse is over.  Everyone can't leave at once.  And governmental entities need to set up some major viewing locations (with bathrooms) and facilitate access to I5 and other major roads.


  1. Hello professor,
    I was wondering if some smoke might actually enhance viewing by acting as a filter. I was in Pocatello week before last and the smoke was thick but the sun was a deep orange and almost red and one could glance at it in the morning for a few seconds with all that smoke as a filter.

  2. Could the smoke act as a filter to enhance eclipse viewing?

  3. What about the marine layer? What's the highest it usually sits? Would 1500 ft. be high enough?

  4. Just thought of something - this could be a great way to show the critical differences in reliability of prediction comparing solar eclipse and weather. In other words, the near perfect calculation of solar eclipse is only at risk of the unpredictability of weather.

    Which of course doesn't discount the high value of weather prediction at all. It only shows how vitally important it is!

    The success of this show and how much we invest in it is entirely dependant on what is uncertain, not certain

  5. Hoo boy, the park rangers and other public and private owners of property here were already worried about eclipse - seekers overrunning their places, with this forecast all I can say is...yikes.

  6. They SHOULD set up viewing facilities with bathrooms, but I doubt anyone will. It's going to be nuts. I'm staying up here.

  7. Cliff, since I have reservations in the Willamette Valley I think what you meant to say is that the viewing will be better anywhere in the US than in the Willamette Valley near Salem. ;-P

  8. I was in Cornwall in 1999 for the total solar. The British government and media were ablaze with disaster predictions as there were no freeways leading into Cornwall, only smaller roads, and there had not been a total solar in England for 70 years. Yes, it was cloudy through much of Cornwall. But the traffic disaster did not happen. Nor will it here on I-5, I imagine, if there is not an accident.

  9. We're going to watch it from just south of Baker City, Oregon. We get totality for 15 seconds longer than Salem, and it's a 5.5 hour drive back along 1-84, I-82 and I-90 without the hordes on I-5.

    Seriously, if you're planning to wing it at 3AM on Monday from Seattle to the Willamette Valley, do consider the far eastern part of Oregon, where last minute traffic issues are likely to be much less. Most of the influx of day-trippers will be from Boise, and going the other way.

  10. We're all ready at the farm in Stayton, 10 miles east of Salem. I was at the coffee drive thru today and asked the barista if she'd seen any tourists yet - she said the person who worked the shift before had seen one. That's right - one. The locals are stocking up and the grocery stores and gas stations are crowded but that seems more like fear of a crowd than arrival of one. I saw the board with the reservations for the camping in Independence, Oregon and they sold less than 200 spots, in a very big park and rv parking area. I think lots of people are going to miss this amazing event because of overhyped crowds and traffic. So far the only traffic has been at the opening of that big festival in eastern Oregon where 30k people are coming down one small road. In the west, we're fine so far.

  11. Miles O'Brien and the Nova Science team will be at 5,300 feet in Irwin, ID to report on the solar eclipse. They put a lot of weighting on altitude and time of totality to choose what they thought would be the best viewing location. What they couldn't do is make late changes due to the last minute weather forecast and smoke conditions.

    In February 1998, the captain of our cruise ship changed location by about 10 n. mi. to get us out from cloud coverer for a beautiful, clear view of a perfect eclipse lasting about three minutes.

    This followed the July 1991 Hawaiian eclipse which was one of the longest in modern history at 6 minutes and 53 seconds. Viewing was excellent, if you were at a fortunate location such as Kona. Forty miles up the coast, the atmosphere cooled as the eclipse commenced and clouds formed and completely obstructed the view for the entire 6' 53". That evening I enjoyed one of the most miserable dinners of my life at the King Kamehemeha hotel as the other half of the astronomy tour regaled us with their perfect viewing adventure.

  12. What are the chances of marine layer clouds forming/re-forming in the Willamette Valley as the air cools during the eclipse?

  13. Thanks for the analysis. Our planned base in Weiser still shows good on NWS and other maps, so we won't abandon for Cascadia yet, but do you have links to live updates of your model based cloud cover maps? You don't want to keep posting every 4 hours so it would be useful if I could look at these myself. NWS map I can find, but the European model is harder.

  14. Well, at least we're staying consistent with the statistical analysis of clear skies on 21 August using MODIS images.

    Even better if we stay on the clear side of the distribution.

  15. I can only speak for my neighborhood here in south Portland, and already it's crawling with traffic and visitors, even though some of that is due to the usual Friday afternoon/evening rush hour.

  16. Funny, the NWS special eclipse web page "get your local forecast"

    shows a tiny clouds in the icon at Salem:,-123.0438

    but totally clear at Madras for Monday ;=),-121.1301

  17. We have our spot picked out, but it's a SECRET. We had to be sure to make totality, because that's when the zombies and flying monkeys come out. Which is why I have an AR-15 and 390 rounds loaded in the magazines. I will save us! Thank me later.


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