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Monday, August 9, 1999 Published at 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK


Flop forecast for Europe's eclipse

The latest weather forecast from the UK Meteorological Office is depressing reading for those Western Europeans who want to watch the total solar eclipse on Wednesday - most areas have only a 20% chance of a clear view.

Special report
Special report
11 August
However, in Eastern Europe the forecast is better than expected and in Turkey and Iran the probability of seeing the eclipse is estimated at 95%.

Forecasts made 48 hours ahead prove to be correct between 70 and 80 % of the time, the Met Office told BBC News Online. "Correct" means closely predicting temperature, cloud cover, rainfall and wind speed.

South West England

The path of the eclipse first falls on land in South West England. Here, in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles, meteorologists say there is only a 15% chance of clear skies.

[ image: Clouds could spell commercial catastrophe for the tourist industry]
Clouds could spell commercial catastrophe for the tourist industry
In south Devon, the news is slightly better with people in Torbay being given a 25% chance. Ironically, the rest of the UK, where only a partial eclipse will be seen, has a better forecast of over 30% probability.

The gloomy predictions are due to a weather front moving in from the west which, although weak, is likely to carry enough cloud to spoil the view. The South West is expected to be clear before this so the timing of the weather system's westward drift is crucial.

Silver lining?

A glimmer of hope comes from the fact that the Met Office say they are currently only 40% confident that they have predicted the timing correctly. Their main aim on Monday is to determine more accurately how fast the weather system is moving and how much cloud it is carrying.

The Met Office spokesman told BBC News Online the weather was "not unseasonal, just very untimely".

The prospects for a clear sighting in Western Europe are also murky. Northern France, Southern Germany, Austria and Hungary are all expected to be cloudy, with just a 20% chance of a break. One brighter spot could be Luxembourg where a 50% chance is predicted.

Clear view

Further east, eclipse watchers are four times more likely to see the event unimpeded by cloud. Romania and the Black Sea have 80% chances, according to the Met Office.

[ image: Lebanese viewers with welder's masks]
Lebanese viewers with welder's masks
Further east again, cloud-free skies are almost guaranteed from south-eastern Turkey into Iran and across to western Pakistan. However, the end of the eclipse's track is equally likely to be hidden above India's rainy season.

Compared to predictions based on long-term climate statistics, the predictions based on the 48-hour forecast are disappointing for Western Europe. An average of many year's weather gives Cornwall over 40% chance of clear skies, but the current forecast for Wednesday is only half that.

Romania is the only place which is doing better than average, with places further east simply meeting expectations.

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