SHANGHAI: Those who were looking forward to seeing the total solar eclipse on Wednesday may be disappointed because of rain and clouds.
Officials at China's National Meteorological Center predicted Monday that the cities that had been widely regarded as the ideal places to watch the rare astronomical event, including Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Hefei and Wuhan, will probably experience rainfall or cloudy weather on Wednesday.
Photo taken on July 11, 2009 shows the sketch maps illustrating the whole process of the full solar eclipse during a popular science exhibition on the introduction to the forthcoming 2009 Full Solar Eclipse at the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum in Shanghai, east China. [Xinhua]
"This indeed will be a great pity if the rare event is ruined by rain or cloudy weather on Wednesday morning," an expert from Shanghai Astronomical Observatory said. "But cities will still be plunged into four to six minutes of darkness by the full eclipse."
An official from the Shanghai Tourist Transport Center said Monday people who bought a tour ticket to watch the eclipse could receive a refund if the rare event is rained out.
The center began selling eclipse tour packages last month with a price of 150 yuan ($22) per person. So far, more than 1,500 tickets have been sold for the eclipse viewing at Yangshan Deep Water Port, which is reported to be a prime viewing spot in the city.
The Shanghai Greenery and Public Sanitation Bureau has decided not to turn on landscape lighting during the total solar eclipse after people said the lights could affect eclipse viewing.
The National Astronomical Observatories have also placed a number of live studios within the path of the eclipse. In the worst case, people can watch the scene via live coverage on TV or on the Internet.
Most of central China will be covered by a shadow when the moon moves between the Earth and sun. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse at that time, he added.
The eclipse will be the longest in China in centuries. A large part of China will be covered and areas along the Yangtze River - including Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei and Sichuan provinces, as well as Chongqing municipality - are among the best observing places.
People there can observe four to six minutes of total eclipse. It is the longest one in the past 2,143 years, according to Li Ding, a professor from Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Zhao Guang, deputy head of the National Astronomical Observatory said people can witness a total solar eclipse once every 300 years in the same spot and it usually lasts only about three minutes.
Shanghai Meteorological Bureau issued the highest heat alert Monday as the city's temperature rocketed to 40 C.
The red heat alert was the first issued this year. The city's weather bureau suggested people stop all outdoor activities and called for heatstroke prevention.
Two pet dogs drink at the roadside in Shanghai, where the temperature hit 40 C, Monday. [China Daily/Gao Erqiang]
Heat alerts are issued in one of three levels: red, orange and yellow. The red alert is the highest and is issued only when the mercury rises above 40 degrees.
Monday was the eighth day in succession with the temperature higher than 35 degrees. The city upgraded the heat alert from yellow to orange on Sunday when the high temperature peaked at 37.7 degrees in downtown areas.
Bureau officials said the temperature would drop to 35 degrees on Tuesday. The rain on Tuesday night will bring the temperature down to about 30 degrees on Wednesday.
Monday in Beijing, residents also suffered from "sauna weather" - a mixture of heat and humidity - and such weather is expected today as well.
Although the highest temperature hit only 34 C Monday, people felt very uncomfortable because of the high humidity, an official at the local meteorological bureau said.
Residents should avoid outdoor activity during the noontime to prevent sunstroke, the meteorologist said.