I have the privilege of being the wife of a mad scientist and eclipse chaser, Rick DeWitt. Let me tell you about our Sonnen Finsternis experience in Germany.
Instead of joining the big party in Stuttgart, my husband (then fiance) wanted to video the eclipse out in the middle of nowhere, so we headed out in our rented car to check out the area. We found a nice empty field with a lone tree for shade. Rick wanted to be on the centerline, and the field was perfect for his calculations. We noticed the cooling tower for a nuclear reactor nearby, but didn’t think anything of it, as it was quiet.
The next morning as we neared the cooling tower, the reactor site looked like it was working at 100% capacity. Of course, they were getting ready for the eclipse needs. We’d heard that there could be eclipse lightning, and decided that being out in a field by the only tree would leave us as sitting ducks. Any lightning would be attracted to the tree, where we planned to be. We might not survive if we stayed in the field. Instead, we hightailed it for a nearby town and set up beside the road. It meant Rick had to adjust his calculations, but we would have a much better chance of surviving the eclipse.
There were intermittent clouds, and it was a muggy day. The nearby nuclear reactor did not help a bit. Fortunately, most of the clouds made by the reactor were carried away by the prevailing winds and did not cross over us.
As the eclipse progressed, I think we had to deal with eclipse breezes. The difference between the cooler air under the shadow, and the warmer air outside the shadow can cause the air to move. I think I put papers in the car so they did not fly away. We’ve heard that some people say that the wind dies down during the eclipse. Sometimes the opposite can happen and the wind picks up during the eclipse probably due to sudden temperature differences. Maybe if it is already windy before the eclipse, the temperature cooling may help to equalize the air pressure, and in that case the wind could die down.
We were enjoying the experience (probably about 50-70% partiality) when all of a sudden there was a cloud burst, and we retreated to our car to get out of the downpour. It didn’t take long – maybe 5-10 minutes. We looked up in the sky, and above us there were few clouds and blue sky, and what clouds we saw were quite wispy and looked like they carried little water. So where did all that water come from!!!??? We realized that because cooler air cannot hold as much water as warmer air, and the air had felt muggy, the downpour we experienced came mostly from the moisture in the air around us, and very little came from the moisture in the clouds. We experienced our first eclipse downpour.
Once the water was out of the air, it did not rain anymore. We experienced no more deluges of water. The air had held the water for as long as it could and when the temperature had gotten low enough all it took was for the first drop to form, and the whole sky condensed almost at once. The droplets took on more water as they dropped. I think by the time the deluge stopped, most of the water was on the ground and not in the air. If I ever hear about there being no clouds in the sky, and suddenly there is rain, I now believe that is possible. All it takes is for warm, moist air to quickly cool below dewpoint.
As the eclipse continued, the sky around the reactor became stormy. The reactor had continued to billow out clouds of moisture. As we’d feared, we saw lightning right about where we would have been in the field. We were glad we’d abandoned that site! As Rick has said, “We could have been struck by nuclear powered eclipse lightning!”
There was a hole in the clouds just in time to see totality. It was an awesome sight, seeing the corona and the diamond ring. We were more worried about seeing the sun, and did not notice any shadowbands before and after totality. Clouds made it hard to see the sun, much less shadowbands.