The forecast started darkening over the weekend. By almost all accounts, the weather on Monday should have been fine throughout the country; nationwide, late August is usually clear midday, though the odds of clouds increase as you move farther east and later into the afternoon. But after weeks of optimistic outlook, thunderstorms loomed.
“It does not look as good for eclipse viewing,” a meteorologist in the National Weather Service office in eastern Missouri wrote Saturday afternoon. Soon, things also did not look good in western Missouri, or in much of Nebraska, or in parts of Tennessee and South Carolina. For millions of people on the path of this “Great American Eclipse,” August 21 could turn out to be a great American bummer.
It would not be the first time.
Since the dawn of the republic, American scientists, artists, and curiosity-seekers have chased immersion in the moon’s shadow, and have been beset by misfortune. Monday’s eclipse is the first one exclusive to what is now the U.S. landmass since two years after independence, but several eclipses have swept through a few states in the generations that followed.
To witness them, Americans have trudged behind enemy lines, up mountains, into oppressive heat, and across the frontier. Their dogged attempts to do science, and to bask in the glory of the sun’s corona, have echoed the unsteady progress of the nation. Eclipse hopefuls have been foiled by events as perilous as war and as pedestrian as cloudy weather. Every time, things have gone wrong, and people have tried again.