The year’s best meteor shower is underway. Observers are reporting around 35 shooting stars per hour — and it has not even peaked. Astronomers predict that number will triple by the time the Geminids meteor shower peaks on Thursday and Friday.
The weather, on the other hand, is a wild card. In some locations, it could spoil the spectacle. In others, it will be clear and dark for winter’s celestial fireworks.
Whether you see a quality show comes down to the weather. Thursday night looks great in the Rockies and Plains but questionable in the East.
Low pressure will develop over Texas and Oklahoma on Thursday morning, generating bands of moderate to occasionally heavy rain on the northern Gulf Coast. A few isolated thunderstorms along the Interstate 10 corridor may be severe.
Behind that sprawling low pressure system, cold air will bring scattered shower activity from Chicago to Dallas during Thursday’s peak-viewing time. Wintry mix is even possible Wednesday evening as the system gains strength west of Dallas-Fort Worth.
Strong winds howling over the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles should mostly subside by Thursday afternoon. That will set the stage for a chilly and blustery Thursday night west of Interstate 35, so if you’re brave enough to venture out for the show, bundle up.
Low clouds will block the view across much of the northern Gulf Coast. On the plus side, there is potential for mid-level drying, which would create breaks in the clouds for Houston and points west after midnight into the wee hours of Friday morning. A deck of clouds banked over Florida means viewers there will largely miss out on any meteors.
In the East, things aren’t looking good for shooting stars. Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte and Detroit have little hope of seeing more than bleak, misty skies. Washington, New York and Boston have more hope — departing high pressure over New England will suppress clouds, but it might not be strong enough to prevent the very high clouds from forming over the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Light sprinkles or mist are possible in the Big Apple, where the National Weather Service in New York is cautioning about the potential for freezing fog.
Isolated lake-effect snow flurries are possible downwind of lakes Erie and Ontario, but they shouldn’t obscure the sky too much. Occasional clouds may also dot the spine of the Appalachians.
Viewing conditions will be ideal for a larger swath of the West. The Four Corners region takes the cake, where people will be hard-pressed to find a cloud within sight. The exception will be near the Pacific Coast, where shoreside fog is possible. In Washington state and Oregon, consider hedging your bets on Wednesday night instead of Thursday — the next bowling ball of moisture will be rolling through Thursday into the weekend.
What to do if it’s cloudy
Even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, you can still enjoy the fireworks. Instead of seeing it, you’ll have to listen to it.
Livemeteors.com has a detector in Washington that “hears” meteors. When a space rock hurtles through the atmosphere, it compresses the air around it. That heats the air to several thousand degrees, ionizing it and causing it to glow, which is the luminous tail that lingers after a meteor zips overhead. Radio waves transmitted upward are beamed back downward by the energized trail, a signal that shows up on the radio as a bell-like “ping.”