From buying up viewing glasses to prepping their pets, Americans are hyped for Monday’s total solar eclipse. And understandably so: A total solar eclipse of this caliber hasn’t occurred in the United States in almost a century.
“What makes this so special and great of an American eclipse is this one will go from coast to coast, and the last time that happened was 99 years ago,” The Weather Channel’s Jen Carfagno tells PEOPLE. “There was one in Hawaii in 1991 that affected part of the Alaskan Islands in ’90, but for most people it was really 1979 that the extreme Pacific Northwest had the potential opportunity to see the total solar eclipse. This is the biggest coast-to-coast American event where everybody will get to experience it.”
Carfagno will be watching from Nashville, one of The Weather Channel’s five U.S. viewing locations, where the eclipse will begin around 11 a.m. ET, and total darkness will take over about 90 minutes later. Before viewers break out their eclipse glasses and pinhole projectors, the weatherwoman explains what Americans can expect to see, how to capture the spectacle on social media, and whether people will feel more thrown off than when Mercury is in retrograde.
For starters, a total solar eclipse prevents sunlight from touching Earth.
“A total solar eclipse is when the moon moves between the sun and the earth and blocks the sun’s light,” Carfagno says. “In totality, it completely blocks the sun’s light from reaching us and we get to see the corona, which is that outer atmosphere of the sun, which we never get to see.”
Fourteen states will see the path of totality.
The approximately 70-mile wide path will start in Oregon and end in South Carolina. “The best spot [for viewing] is going to be where there’s the least amount of cloud coverage,” the meteorologist explains. “For this time of year, the Western states and the Central Plain states have the best chance of no clouds.”
If you’re not in any of those states, you’ll still be able to see the total solar eclipse, just not in totality.
“One of the most spectacular things about this particular eclipse is that even if you’re not in totality, everyone in the lower 48 [states] will at least get a partial eclipse. Nebraska will have some of the longest totality. If the sky is clear that day, you’ll be able to see it with your eclipse glasses, or you can make a pinhole projector and you would be able to see the partial.”
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The eclipse will act as the country’s air conditioner.
“Especially if the air is not very humid, temperatures could drop as much as 10-20 degrees,” she clarifies.
Things might get wild, literally.
Though humans should remain unaffected. “It’s likely that animals might begin to behave differently, so you might hear their sounds, birds chirping, going to nest because they’re going to think it’s night time. The darkness will signal that,” the Penn State grad says. “It might give people a chance to get out their crazy.”
It’ll move on faster than your ex.
“A question I’ve been asked is, ‘Can I chase the eclipse?’ And the answer is definitely not. It’s going to move at anywhere from 1,500-2,000 miles per hour, so unless you’re in an F15 Eagle — and even then they would have to pedal to the medal— there’s no way that you could chase it. When it comes to total solar eclipse, the most you can ever get is seven minutes. It’ll go across the entire country in totality in one hour and 33 minutes.”
Because of that, it’ll be very difficult to document the eclipse on Instagram.
“Just enjoy the moment and view it with your glasses,” Carfagno recommends. “If you’re in totality, you can take your glasses off and not just view it, but experience it, because all the different senses will be activated.”
Should you miss this total solar eclipse, you’ll have to wait until 2024 to see the next one.
But there’s a catch. “That one will move from Texas through Maine,” she informs, “so only the eastern half of the country will really get to experience it.”
The Weather Channel will begin live coverage of the eclipse at 6 a.m. ET on Aug. 21.