Tag: Faroe Islands

24 Dec 2014

Researching eclipse weather using Citizen Science

One of the concerns about the up-and-coming total solar eclipse is the weather experienced along the path of totality during the month of March.  Existing weather statistics for the Faroe Islands taken from Vagar Airport collected over the past 20 years show that there is a high occurrence of cloud in March, and a high occurrence of precipitation.

However, there are two main problems with using this historical data for eclipse planning.  Firstly, the average weather statistics at one location in the Faroe Islands tell us nothing about the circumstances at locations across the islands.  And secondly, the average monthly weather statistics tell us little about weather at ‘eclipse time’ – from 8.40-10.40am.

Dr Geoff Sims and Dr Kate Russo in the Faroe Islands, March 2013
Dr Geoff Sims and Dr Kate Russo in the Faroe Islands, March 2014

For these reasons, I participated in a Citizen Science weather project in March 2014, exactly one year before the eclipse. Dr Geoff Sims – Australian Astrophysicist, Eclipse Photographer and fellow chaser – led the project.

Citizen science is where researchers involve the community to collect data to answer a specific question. In this case, we wanted to know what the weather was like at eclipse time, for the month of March, at various locations across the islands.  A number of locals took photographs of the Sun every morning at 9.40am (the time of totality) from their home or work location.  These photographs were then rated using a 5 point scale, from clear skies to completely overcast. The observations were also compared with the six-hour forecast to determine accuracy of predictions.

Sample of images captured in March 2013 for each coded category
Sample of images captured in March 2014 for each coded category

The following generalisations could be made:

  • As predicted, there was a lot of cloud.  However, on most days the Sun could be seen in at least one location at eclipse time;
  • There were several days where the weather was clear over most of the archipelago at eclipse time;
  • Some locations in the islands were more frequently cloudier than others at eclipse time, giving worse viewing odds;
  • The six-hour weather forecasts were not entirely accurate, with cloud appearing when clear skies were forecast, and some visibility where full cloud was forecast.
Frequency of cloud at eclipse time (darker regions represent more cloud)
Spatial map capturing the frequency of days in March 2014 where the cloud covered the Sun at 9.40am – totality time.  Note that darker regions denote more cloud.

A full report of this citizen science project was published in the December 2014 edition of The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.  An overview was also published by Geoff for Astronomers Without Borders.

The results of this citizen science project confirmed my own direct observations of where to focus eclipse viewing in the Faroe Islands. It also confirmed the anecdotal views of local people.

Citizen science projects do have some limitations. However, this project allowed us to gather information about a practical problem in a way that was quick, inexpensive and which involved the local community one year in advance of the total eclipse.

Despite all this, we will still be very much at the whim of Mother Nature on 20th March 2015.  We can explore historical climate patterns, but as the saying goes, climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get. 

05 Oct 2014

Planning for 2015 – Part Two

March in the Faroes - make sure to wrap up warm to enjoy the spectacular outdoors.  © Kate Russo 2014
March in the Faroes – make sure to wrap up warm to enjoy the spectacular outdoors. © Kate Russo 2014

Earlier in March 2014 I revisited the Faroe Islands.  This was a practice run for the Total Eclipse of 2015.  I wanted to see first hand what the weather would be like, and what challenges needed to be overcome for the eclipse.

Visiting in March reminded me of that Norwegian saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.  The weather was rather changeable – throughout the day there were spells of brilliant sunshine, hail, horizontal rain, blue skies and atmospheric gloom.  The weather would change dramatically – often within minutes.  Despite this, I was bemused to see that locals just carry on as normal – they continued their daily walks, their after work jogging.  People got on with things – they just wrapped up warm and carried on.

Having now seen the weather in March, I am convinced of three things.  Firstly, I am confident that we will be able to see SOME of the eclipse.  I think we will have to be extremely lucky to have totally clear blue skies on eclipse morning.  Being able to see the whole eclipse unfold, from first contact to fourth contact is also unlikely.  But I am much more optimistic that we will be able to get a short glimpse of totality having seen the weather.   Secondly, the weather was so changeable, in minutes, that I am convinced that the usual strategy of doing a last-minute dash for clear skies does not apply here.  The best thing is to find the most suitable location and stick with it as there is no way one can outrun the weather.  And finally, I am convinced that the best eclipse experience involves being near to a place of warmth.  It is not easy to stand still outside in the weather for any length of time.

I also noticed that same pull towards being in the great outdoors that I felt during my first visit last September.  There is something about the islands that compels you to be outdoors – to enjoy all that nature throws at you.  I am sure that regardless of the weather, everyone who travels to the Faroes for the eclipse in March 2015 will be spellbound by this magical place.  I had brilliant days, a fabulous trip, and I even was able to see a light aurora display.

I did a lot during my March visit – I did radio interviews, gave talks to schools and tourist information groups.  I connected with tour guides and hotel owners, to share thoughts about preparing for the eclipse.  Because of the outreach I had done, everywhere I went people knew who I was and wanted to talk about the eclipse.  I participated in a Citizen Science project along with a fellow eclipse chaser.  I scouted out eclipse viewing locations all across the islands.  i shared eclipse information with anyone and everyone who wanted to know.

One of the most rewarding things is to be able to share information and excitement about the eclipse to a community of people who are about to experience it.  I am delighted that the tour I am arranging also has a very strong community involvement element to it.   After many years of creating my own special and unique eclipse travel memories, I am excited to be in a position to provide a memorable eclipse experience for others.

It’s not too late to join me on my Faroe Islands Eclipse Tour with The Independent Traveller – get in touch, or find out more about the Eclipse of 2015.