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Dark morning in November


9 August, 2012

During a solar eclipse, the moon's apparent diameter is larger than the sun, blocking all direct sunlight for viewers on earth and turning day into darkness as the moon passes between earth and sun. Totality occurs in a narrow path across the surface of the earth.

This event will occur on 14 November around 10:30 AM and this time the maximum eclipse will be almost over New Zealand, passing 1100 miles to our east. The best place on the globe to see it from will be Cairns, followed by Norfolk Island and Auckland 4 hours after Cairns. Whilst Cairns gets 100% of the visual effect, Auckland will see 80% of the sun obscured, and Christchurch, 60%. See path below.

(courtesy )

The cycle of solar and lunar eclipses around the earth repeats every 223 lunar months, which means 223 full Moons must be counted before earth, moon and sun are again in the same positions in the sky. It means these total solar eclipses occur every roughly 18 years. The last was in 1994 and the next will be in 2030.

This eclipse will be 12 hours before lunar perigee, and perigee eclipses should be respected. The 14 November is the day of new moon, the day the moon is third closest to earth for the whole year (perigee), and also in direct line ("node") with the sun. Consequently the moon will exert extra gravitational pull on earth not diminished by parallax. These factors allow increased turbulence to land sea and air. The 14th is also the first day of a kingtide that will last until the 16th.

Eclipses were feared in ancient times but much of the reason why has become lost in antiquity. Today it is an unrecognised science and if extreme weather arrives around an eclipse it is more likely to be called a fluke. However it will be found that eclipses are always in some way related to the area of a disaster, especially if the eclipse is visible in the predicted area of a disaster.

A magnitude 6 earthquake struck Japan as a total solar eclipse occurred on March 29, 2006 and within 24 hours the satellite responsible for NZ's SKY Network Television failed. On the 31st a 6.1-mag earthquake struck western Iran. Following the August 1999 solar eclipse, destructive floods came to France and Italy, major earthquakes occurred in Turkey and Greece, and a huge cyclone hit India. Martinique’s Mt. Pelee eruption in 1902 was preceded by a total lunar eclipse.

Sometimes extreme events may occur a month or more either side of eclipse. For example the solar eclipse of 10 May 1994 may one month later have triggered the 1994 Arthurs Pass earthquake of 6.7mag (18 June) which was the largest on land in NZ for 65 years and which spawned over 12,000 seismic events over the next two years in Canterbury. 

The Tangshan, China earthquake of 1976 may also be a good example, with an eclipse over Tangshan three months earlier. The same may hold true for the 1900 Galveston, TX hurricane that claimed over 6,000 lives, preceded by a solar eclipse just four months earlier. And yet again they all may be amazing coincidences.

Right now we are about three months out from 14 November. But there has already been activity beneath Mt Tongariro and White Island and a noticeable increase in earthquakes to the northeast of the North island close to the eclipse path. Stress and unsettlement may be brewing way down under the plates which may culminate in something larger between now and the eclipse.

(Update: the above paragraph mentioning Tongariro was written, along with the rest of this article, on 5 August. On  7 Aug, Mt Tongariro erupted, )

Total eclipses can also bring sudden temperature drops. During the 7 March 1970 eclipse the temperature in Norfolk, Virginia fell by 11degC. In the eclipse of 11 July 1991 the temperature in Baja California dropped 7degC. During total eclipse if there is a lot of moisture aloft, the dew point may be reached very quickly as temperature drops and extensive sheets of heavy cloud may form.

So the situation is worth a warning, but probably not a panic warning. However, as always, exact magnitude and location is unpredictable and the most we can say is that the time is a risk-filled one.  Vigilance should be observed in areas showing the greatest seismic murmurings and Civil Defence should be alerted. Whenever there is a significant shake there are also smaller shakes in other prone zones.

Due to significant moon positions alone we can say that over the kingtide+close perigee+new moon+southern declination interval of 13-16 November, heavy rain and flooding are likely from Central Plateau southwards, expected to cover much of the South Island. The widespread heavy rain may be associated with significant electrical activity, with squalls and thunderstorms also affecting central New Zealand.

Consequently the Tararua and Ruahine Ranges could receive torrential rain, flooding may affect parts of Wellington and rivers may burst banks in Wanganui, southern Wairarapa, Buller and Fiordland. Also, by the 17 November, westerlies may reach gale force in central and eastern regions.  The November eclipse will probably add weight to these possibilities and there is plenty of time now to prepare.

Update on 23 October: many earthquakes have been occurring in the Gisborne/BoP/central North island zone. The shakes are happening not only in Gisborne but all along the East Cape and BoP because that is the closest to the eclipse path on 14 November. To some extent too, the rest of the east of the country is also seeing action. This flurry is likely to cease after the eclipse event. But between now and then we will see many more in the east and especially the North Island's east. One signal was the 5.5mag shake in Taupo on 14 October, close to the October perigee, and exactly one month (moon minicycle) from the 14 November eclipse. It was the type of dress-rehearsal seen often with eclipses. Christchurch should be safe, with smaller shakes and magnitudes unlikely to go beyond high 4's, but the NE and SW of NZ may get the larger events.

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