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Total Solar Eclipse of 1998 February 26

Weather Prospects in Aruba and Curaçao

Jay Anderson

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North and east of the Peninsula de Paraguan‡ are the former Dutch islands of Aruba and Curaçao, both popular tourist destinations. For this eclipse, they share in the good weather prospects characteristic of northern South America. The eclipse center line passes between the two, so observations from these islands will impose a time penalty. At the northern tip of Curaçao, the eclipse duration of 3m 32s is only 11 seconds shorter than on the center line (3m 43s). At the southern tip of Aruba (3m 34s), the time penalty is only 9 seconds. Thus, both islands make excellent locations since they share similar weather conditions.

Aruba is a 31 by 10 kilometer island. Most hotels there are located along the northwest coast where totality is under three minutes. However, a 25 km drive to the island's southern end increases the duration by 30 seconds. Aruba's dry weather is reflected in scant vegetation - mostly cacti and wind-bent trees. February is the cool season with temperatures in the mid twenties Centigrade. Precipitation is low, approaching a minimum in March and April. February is also the sunniest month, with a mean cloud cover of less than 40%. Relief on the island is low, only 188 meters at the highest point, providing little disruption of the trade winds. The combination of dry interior and the steady trade winds brings lots of dust.

Sint Nicholas is the site of a large oil refinery, with appropriate smells and sights. At one time this was the largest refinery in the world, but has been operated at only part of its capacity since 1991. South of the refinery, along the coastal road at Seroe Colorado, is the former Exxon staff residential area (known as "the colony") which includes two west-facing beaches (Baby Beach and Rodgers Beach). According to one guide book (Cameron and Box, 1995), the residential site and beaches are accessible to the public. From an astronomical point of view the beaches offer the best location on the island , but are rather exposed to the unceasing northeast trade winds. This could be an advantage as an exposed beach (that is, exposed to the onshore trade winds) is more likely to be free of the dust which bothers the rest of the island. Colorado Point, a short distance from Seroe Colorado, may provide additional viewing sites, though it is also exposed to the winds.

The weekend before the eclipse is the end of Carnival across the Caribbean, marked by parades and other festivities. Some of the celebrations may go on into eclipse week, but sober civilization should have returned before the Moon begins its own ceremony with the Sun.

Curaçao is the largest of the islands of the Netherlands Antilles, lying 60 kilometers off the Venezuelan coast. Like Aruba, it is dry and sparsely vegetated, though with slightly more relief to block the winds. Best eclipse observing (astronomically) is on the rugged north coast. Those wishing to sacrifice a few seconds of totality may find the protected beaches and coves of the west side of the island more to their liking. Some beaches are private and offer a few amenities not available at public beaches in exchange for a user fee. Dorp Lagun is one such scenic spot on the northwest coast, not far from the northern tip of the island, offering "a lovely secluded beach in a small cove with cliffs surrounding it and small fishing boats" (Cameron and Box, 1995). Knip Bay, a little to the north of Dorp Lagun, has a larger beach.

There is no particular reason to watch this eclipse from a beach-front site since the eclipse occurs well overhead and a clear horizon is not a prerequisite, except possibly for an unobstructed view of the oncoming shadow cone. Ordinarily beach sites are preferred for the stability and sunshine promoted by cooling winds off the water, but the steady trade winds blowing over these small islands are able to readily achieve this. Stable conditions in the lower atmosphere may reduce the possibility of seeing shadow bands, but these ghostly heralds are also promoted by turbulent conditions at higher levels, and may still delight the careful observer. The western beaches offer some protection from the easterly trade winds, but similar spots might also be found in the lee of steeper hills. The highest point of the island, Mount Christoffel, east of Dorp Lagun, rises only 385 meters. A little scouting in the days before the eclipse will ferret out the best spots, according to the type of observing and measurement that you may wish to do. Those with a penchant for hiking and a small amount of equipment may wish to hike to the top of Mount Christoffel to view the eclipse - a distance of 7 to 12 km depending on the trail taken.

Sunshine statistics for Curaçao and Aruba are the equal of those in nearby Venezuela and Colombia - between 8 and 9 hours per day, or 70 to 80 percent or more of the maximum possible (Table 24). However, rainfall statistics show that Aruba is the drier island, by a small amount. Choices between continental locations in Venezuela or northeast Colombia and island locations on Aruba and Curaçao will have to be made on the basis of factors other than weather, for there is not much to distinguish one location from the other. Throughout this area, February is the sunniest month.

Small tropical weather systems, when they do approach, will come from the east, not the western horizon which is more familiar at North American and European latitudes. These easterly waves bring scattered showers and thundershowers, along with plenty of high level cloud. Most of these systems will be substantially weakened by the atmospheric subsidence along the north coast as they move toward the eclipse track. Charts of the occurrence of larger thunderstorm clusters show that none of them reach the umbral path, though they are rare visitors to the southern tip of Lake Maracaibo (Garcia, 1985). These clusters originate along the ICZ, which lies across southern Venezuela and Colombia, well away from the track.

It should be noted that thin high level cloudiness is endemic throughout tropical and subtropical latitudes, and observers should not expect pure blue skies at any location for this eclipse, though the continental locations are more likely to see clean skies than island sites. Interestingly, descending air in front of easterly waves does flush out the cirrus cloudiness, and those willing to take a chance by positioning themselves in front of an approaching disturbance may be rewarded with the best skies of all. This option is probably open only to those who travel aboard ship. Of course if you guess the speed of the disturbance incorrectly....

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Adapted from NASA RP 1383 "Total Solar Eclipse of 1998 February 26".

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Last revised: 1997 April 24 - F. Espenak