Total eclipse of the sun: what it means to gardeners in WNY

total eclipse of the sun
Photo courtesy Drew Rae

by Connie Oswald Stofko

I felt a weird energy.

That’s the best way I can describe what it was like during the partial eclipse of the sun here on Aug. 21, 2017. It was something like the beginning of a lightning storm. The feeling was subtle and short—I felt it for perhaps half a minute—but it was an interesting thing to experience.

What will it be like when Western New York sees the total eclipse of the sun on Monday, April 8?

Expect that it will get dark out and the temperature will drop 10 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit, said Tim Collins, cohost for The 7th Magnitude, an astronomy podcast. He is also part of the Buffalo Eclipse Consortium, which has great information.

What total eclipse means to gardeners in WNY

Plants: not much to see

A total eclipse can affect certain plants, causing their leaves or flowers to close during the darkness. But since we’re still in early spring, none of those plants are growing Western New York right now. See this experiment on plants opening and closing leaves at the University of Missouri-Columbia, which was directly in the path of the total eclipse in August 2017. (Western New York saw only a partial eclipse in 2017.)

The total eclipse may affect our plants in other ways, but they are changes that we can’t see with the naked eye.

For example, experiments have shown that plants experience a decrease in photosynthesis and transpiration and often respond as if it were dusk, according to this page on Landsat. (The NASA/USGS Landsat Program provides the longest continuous space-based record of Earth’s land in existence. Landsat data gives us information essential for making informed decisions about Earth’s resources and environment.) Other effects of a total eclipse may include changes in sap flow. 

Terry Farrell, who is a cohost of The 7th Magnitude, mentioned a legend that if you plant flowers during the eclipse, you will have more colorful flowers, Collins said. If you want to try this, you’ll have to prepare your holes or rows ahead of time and work fast; there will be only about four minutes of total eclipse.

Animals: could be interesting

During the total eclipse, you may notice animals acting differently.

Fireflies were observed flashing during the total eclipse in 2017, according to “Firefly Flashing Activity during the Totality Phase of a Solar Eclipse” by Marc A. Branham and Lynn F. Faust in Entomological News.

The upcoming solar eclipse could scramble bird behavior, according to this article in the Cornell Chronicle from Cornell University. “Researchers from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and partners will be hurrying to measure the impact of daytime darkness on the movements of birds, bats and insects—flying creatures that are very attuned to changes in light levels,” said Pat Leonard, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

If you’re near a pond, you’ll hear the sound of tree frogs, peepers and toads, Collins said.

After the total eclipse, let us know what you noticed in your area of Western New York. Leave a comment below.

Stay in your yard or go to a gathering?

“There are two ways see an eclipse,” Collins said. “A ‘me’ eclipse or a ‘we’ eclipse.”

It can be exciting to experience the eclipse with others, but you don’t have to leave your own backyard.

Note: While almost all of Western New York is in the path of the total eclipse, some areas, such as Olean, are on the edge of that path. If you want to learn where to go to see the whole total eclipse, check out its path on this map.

The very start of the eclipse will be at 2 p.m., Collins said, with the moon slowly moving between Earth and the Sun. At 3:18 p.m. we will experience the beginning of the total eclipse and the total eclipse will end at 3:22 p.m.

If you plan to watch from your yard, check to see whether tall trees or buildings might obscure your view. Go outside one of these days before the eclipse. Make sure you have a clear view of the sun between 3:18 and 3:22 p.m., he said.

There are many, many places that are having gatherings, from Pelion Outdoor Classroom at City Honors School in Buffalo to a list on this page from Enchanted Mountains in Cattaraugus County. Look for places near you; there may be a lot of traffic with tourists arriving to see the total eclipse.

Weather

The best weather in which to see an eclipse is sunny, with no clouds or rain. If it’s cloudy or raining, you will still see it dark out, but it won’t be as dark as night, Collins said.

“It will be like sunset after a rainy day,” he said. “It’s not the grand prize (of total eclipses), but it’s something.”

The weather forecast for the total solar eclipse doesn’t look too bad. In all eight counties, there will be some clouds and only about a 20 percent chance of precipitation.

But let’s not get our hopes up too high. A 20 percent chance of precipitation means that, eight times out of ten, we wouldn’t get rain or snow. But it also means that two times out of ten we would get rain or snow. And of course, weather can change quickly in Western New York!

  • Buffalo: Sunny to partly cloudy, high of 51 degrees Fahrenheit, 20 percent chance of precipitation
  • Lockport: Sunshine and patchy clouds, high of 59, 21 percent chance of precipitation
  • Albion: Sunshine and patchy clouds, high of 57, 17 percent chance of precipitation
  • Batavia: Sunshine and patchy clouds, high of 58, 18 percent chance of precipitation
  • Warsaw: Sunshine and patchy clouds, high of 58, 19 percent chance of precipitation
  • Belmont: Milder with sunshine and patchy clouds, high of 55, 16 percent chance of precipitation
  • Little Valley: Partly sunny, high of 57, 25 percent chance of precipitation
  • Chautauqua: Sun and some clouds, high of 56, 25 percent chance of precipitation

Be safe watching the eclipse

Eclipse glasses

You must wear solar eclipse glasses or viewers while watching the partial eclipse. These viewers are made of cardboard with a gray film as the lens. (During the total eclipse you can take the viewers off.)

Go to this page from the American Astronomical Society to see where you can buy the viewers; scroll down to the heading “North American Large Retail Chains.”

If you have eclipse glasses from the partial eclipse in 2017, you can still use them if the film isn’t scratched or have holes. See “How to Tell If a Solar Viewer Is Truly Safe” on this page. This page is also helpful because some fake and counterfeit eclipse glasses have sold online.

Safety workshop

You can also sign up for a virtual workshop from the Buffalo Museum of Science on how to view the eclipse without the danger of damaging the eyes or affecting vision. It will take place online from 1 to 2 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, April 3. Registration is required.

Want more info on WNY’s total eclipse?

Go to the  Buffalo Eclipse Consortium.

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