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5 tips for viewing the 2024 solar eclipse in Vermont

The once-in-a-lifetime chance to view a total solar eclipse is April 8, but clouds and crowds are expected, too

By Erin Petenko/VTDigger

When experts and scientists are asked about their suggestions for how best to view the April 8 eclipse, many of them started off with the same piece of advice: “Don’t look directly at the sun!” as Scott Whittier, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, put it. 

Even during a partial eclipse, the sun’s burning rays can penetrate your retinas and cause eye damage in minutes. But the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch the sun be completely covered by the moon may make it worth finding safe ways to gaze upward. 

The last time Vermont experienced a total solar eclipse was 1932, said John Perry, an astrophysics professor at the University of Vermont. Another total eclipse won’t come to the state for another five decades, according to NASA, although parts of the U.S. will experience one in 2044 and 2045.

1. Find out where you are on the eclipse path

A total solar eclipse is when the moon completely covers the sun from view, causing an effect where the dark moon is surrounded by the hazy glow of the sun’s corona. That “total” effect will only be visible in the northern part of the state, according to maps from NASA.

Burlington will experience the total solar eclipse first, from about 3:26 to 3:29 p.m. on April 8. From there, the path of totality will travel diagonally past Montpelier, hitting the Northeast Kingdom at about 3:30 p.m.

But areas south of the path of totality — including Rutland, Killington and Woodstock — will experience a partial solar eclipse, according to NASA. The sun’s corona will not be visible, but the sky is still predicted to become dark and the sun would look like a crescent when viewed through safety equipment.

The closer you are to the path of totality, the longer the total eclipse effect is predicted to last, Perry said. The very center of it will be a mile or two into Lake Champlain. “ You can always rent a boat,” he said.

2. Figure out a way to view the eclipse safely

There are several methods to protect your eyes during an eclipse. Perhaps the easiest is to purchase special eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers that are designed to block harmful sun rays. Look for glasses that conform to the ISO 12312-2 standard, Perry said. 

In a pinch, you can also build a pinhole projector out of a box, aluminum foil and a piece of paper, Perry said. This NASA website has a diagram of how to create it. Even a small hole punched in an index card, or an object with lots of holes like a colander, will allow you to indirectly see the crescent shape of the sun as a shadow on the ground.

At the very moment of totality, when the moon has completely blocked the sun, it is safe to view the effect without eclipse glasses, according to NASA.

It will create a crescent shape
followed by bright
patterns as the last remnants
of the sun’s rays peek
out behind the moon,
called the diamond ring effect.

3. Keep an eye out for these ‘special effects’

Even on a cloudy day, as the moon starts to block parts of the sun, the entire sky will gradually get darker, Perry said. Animals might begin to react as though it’s twilight. “Furry creatures come out and bump into your legs, you know, stuff like that,” he joked. 

On a clear day, as the moon covers the sun, it will create a crescent shape followed by bright patterns as the last remnants of the sun’s rays peek out behind the moon, called the diamond ring effect. Then the moon will completely block the sun, causing the streaming lights of the corona to stand out around it. 

On a clear day, planets such as Venus and Jupiter might become visible as they would in the evening sky, Perry said.

Perry suggested that the best viewing location might be looking westward and downward so that you can watch the shadow of the moon traveling toward you as totality approaches.

“It’s a fairly dramatic thing to see, to look down for a moment instead of looking up and see that shadow coming at you,” he said.

4. Be ready for crowds

Local organizations, businesses and communities have already planned a number of eclipse events and celebrations. (See the adjacent page and calendar for events held locally.) 

The eclipse is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors. Officials across the state are planning for crowds, traffic and other hazards, according to Mark Bosma, a spokesperson for Vermont Emergency Management.

Burlington schools are even scheduled to close early on Monday, April 8, because of traffic and safety concerns, said Russ Elek, a spokesperson for the school district, via email. He cited estimates from local authorities that the eclipse could draw up to 250,000 people to the area, causing traffic that could last for hours after it ends. 

Perry said being in a crowd to see the eclipse might be “exciting.” 

“You’re looking up, so it’s not going to be like in a theater trying to see through the person in front of you,” he pointed out.

5. While the forecast looks good, be prepared for clouds.

How many people will come to Vermont? What will they see? Those answers are dependent on one important but uncertain factor: the state’s wily and wet spring weather. 

Meteorologist Whittier is ready for disappointment. He cited data showing that based on historic patterns, the chance of a relatively clear day is between 10% and 20%.

“If I was putting my eggs in one basket to really wanting to see it at this point … I would probably be down in Texas to see it,” he said.

As of Monday, April 1, forecasters were predicting April 8 to be sunny and around 50 degrees with just a 5% chance of clouds.

But “It really can vary,” Whittier said.

Perry says to have hope. He recalled the partial solar eclipse that occurred last October on a cloudy day. “It was totally cloudy, totally overcast, all right up until the eclipse started,” he said. “And then it magically cleared and we got this great look at the eclipse for about an hour.”

Courtesy Nasa Scientific Visualization Studio
Path of the solar eclipse through Vermont. Rutland is about 40 miles south of “totalality,” the epicenter is in Lake Champlain.

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