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How to avoid clouds that could spoil the Great American Eclipse

A total solar eclipse in Belitung, Indonesia, on March 9, 2016. (AP)

You’ll hear it again and again. The Aug. 21 total solar eclipse is a once in a lifetime celestial event, and a mind-blowing experience awaits those who witness it.

It is being called the “Great American Eclipse;” the last comparable event occurred 99 years ago.

But, depending where you go, clouds could play spoiler. Inevitably, some people who spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to travel to view the spectacle could have their experience completely ruined by overcast skies.

Fortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has developed a website that provides detailed information about which locations have the best chance of skies clear enough to view the eclipse.

To get the full eclipse experience, you’ll want to head to a location along the path of totality, spanning from roughly Lincoln City, Ore., to Charleston, S.C. It’s here where the moon will completely block out the sun’s face for up to two to three minutes. Day will suddenly turn to twilight, and the sun’s stunning outer atmosphere known as its corona will radiate around the moon.

Five state capitals lie along the path of totality in addition to several major cities.

Below, we summarize which cities along the path of totality have the highest and lowest likelihood of viewable conditions, least obstructed by cloud cover.

Cities most likely (more than 70 percent chance) to have viewable conditions

  • Casper, Wyo.: 88 percent chance
  • Carbondale, Ill.: 80 percent chance
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho: 78 percent chance
  • Lincoln, Neb.: 77 percent chance
  • Jefferson City, Mo.: 77 percent chance
  • Clemson, S.C.: 75 percent chance
  • Bowling Green, Ky.: 71 percent chance

Cities somewhat likely (50-70 percent chance) to have viewable conditions

  • Salem, Ore.: 67 percent chance
  • St. Louis (Chesterfield, just to the west): 61 percent
  • Charleston, S.C.: 53 percent chance

Cities where viewable conditions are more of a wild card (less than 50 percent)

  • Kansas City, Mo.: 49 percent
  • Nashville: 44 percent
  • Columbia, S.C.: 44 percent
  • Newport, Ore.: 44 percent

Generally, locations in the Mountain West, and away from coastal areas, have the highest chance of clear skies.

We found that the coasts could be susceptible to cloudier conditions and that increased cloud cover may be possible as the eclipse travels across the country east of the Mississippi River,” NOAA said. 

It’s important to point out the viewability information presented by NOAA is based on historical averages. One could choose a location that has mostly clear skies nearly 90 percent of the time in late August, but 2017 could represent the 1-in-10 exception.

If you’re interested in exploring the viewability percentages for locations not listed above, consult NOAA’s interactive map where detailed historical cloud cover information is available for dozens of locations.

Those planning to travel to the path of totality should be aware that hotels are already reportedly either booked solid or astronomically expensive in many areas. However, camping remains an option or you can try to book housing via an outlet like Airbnb. Another option is to find a hotel with vacancy just outside the 70-mile wide path of totality and then drive in. If you decide to drive in, anticipate the possibility of traffic delays.

As many universities along the path of totality are hosting festivities, such as lectures and viewing parties, they would be great places to visit before and during the eclipse.

Below are a number of universities that have activities planned:

Link: More eclipse coverage from The Washington Post