Between approximately 8:18am and 9:35am on Friday 20th March (depending on where in the country you are), the moon will slowly pass across the sun, turning it into a crescent, then a halo, of light and casting a shadow on the earth below that will turn the sky momentarily dark.
A countrywide solar eclipse hasn’t happened since 1961, and one with this amount of coverage won’t take place again until 2090, so it’s easy to understand why eclipse fever is rife. Yet our typically inclement weather could prevent many of us from getting a glimpse of it.
Much of Britain will be covered by cloud, with only a diagonal band across the middle of the country likely to be less effected, giving the Midlands, Wales and southwest England the best chance of a good view and likely to leave London and the South east out of luck.
“That narrow swathe across parts of the Midlands and into Wales and parts of southwest England, has the best chance of some cloud breaks,” says Helen Roberts of the Met Office. “Either side of that swathe, there are likely to be some breaks, but exactly where is impossible to say. The southeast of England, including London, is likely to have rather a murky start, only slowly brightening, so for most not in time for the eclipse.”
The outlook is the same for much of Scotland and the North of England, with only areas of northeast England and around Inverness expected to see breaks in the cloud at the critical period.
“There will be two weak weather fronts, one is likely to be lying across parts of northern England and perhaps southern Scotland, bringing thicker cloud and a few spots of rain,” says Roberts. “The other front is likely to affect the far northwest of Scotland, with thicker cloud and some patchy rain. Other places that could see some breaks in the cloud are parts of northeast England and perhaps around the Moray Firth, but again details are tricky.”
There is still hope for us all though – there’s a chance that the clouds could part at just the right time wherever you are in the country. And even if you don’t see the eclipse itself you are still likely to be able to experience the eerie darkening of the skies as the moon passes in front of the sun and perhaps the sudden quieting of birdsong as nature feels the impact of the brief false night.
“We are advising that if people are interested, then pop outside anyway, you never know, a cloud break might appear at just the right time,” says Roberts. “And even if it doesn’t, skies are likely to darken somewhat, depending on where you are in the UK.”
Whatever the weather, one thing to remember if you’re outside during the eclipse is safety – do not look directly at the sun unless you are wearing special eclipse glasses (sunglasses will not protect your eyes). And for tips on how to experience it indirectly, read our guide.
Until then, fingers crossed this is one that the weather men and women have got wrong…