I first learned about this total eclipse while I was in the 7th grade (early 1980s). In the sun/moon section in the Peterson Field Guide on astronomy, they showed a track that appeared to pass close to Kansas City, my hometown then and now. Some years later, I discovered that it indeed would cross the northern part of the metro. Now 30+ years later, it was time to get ready for E-Day.
As the months turned into weeks, I began to worry about the weather. August was turning out to be cooler and wetter than usual. For the eclipse, I would have preferred a typical August heat wave, which would involve fewer clouds under a high pressure ridge. Instead, we were getting flooding rains and clouds fed by the ample humidity. Even the resulting lush vegetation was conspiring against me... I mean us, by releasing more moisture into the air. At ten days out, the long-range forecast was coming into play. Not looking so good. They were consistently predicting a band of clouds extending from New Mexico through the region. Worse yet, it would look like clouds would be a concern from Idaho to South Carolina. Now I had been willing to drive as far as it took to see totality, but I really didn't feel like driving the 1500 miles to Oregon only to be stuck in traffic jams or other aspects of the feared 'peoplocalypse'. So hopefully, the forecast would tighten up a bit as the weeks turned into days.
At one day out, the weather wasn't looking so hot (pun intended). The cloud band was in play as thunderstorms were firing off in New Mexico like there was no tomorrow. A complex of storms was predicted to go off in Iowa the night before, which could leave more cloud cover in northern Missouri. Wind outflow from this complex would blow up more storms around KC on eclipse day. So now it looks like I'll have to travel to southern Illinois to see the event. Not so fast. Now they were predicting a warm front in central/southern Missouri, which led to a 30% chance of thunderstorms in SE Missouri at the wrong time. So Illinois is out. Onward to Kentucky!
Backtrack a little bit... While examining satellite images, I noticed that fair-weather cumulus clouds (the puffy clouds on pleasant summer days that resemble castles, elephants, etc.) tended to avoid river valleys and reservoirs. This slightly increased probability of clear skies would land me in the fine little town of Eddyville near the north shore of Lake Barkley.
Backtrack again... I had decided on Eddyville as my Plan B in case the KC weather went down the toilet. When the National Weather Service forecaster indicated a cirrostratus shield over the KC area (which would render the sun as a blurry mess), I decided to leave the house at 11 PM and gun it for Kentucky. After driving all night (seven hours), I pulled into town and had some breakfast at the local McDonalds. I then searched for an adequate observing spot. An outlet mall was providing parking and viewing spots for $5. I asked a lady at the entrance who else was allowing parking. She said the Eddyville Methodist Church was letting people use their parking lot. This sounded appealing -- fewer people and no loud music. After a bit of searching, I found the church and stopped the car. Totality was six hours away.
At first, there was nobody at the church. After waiting an hour or so, people started to show up. As it turns out, the church was asking for $10 for the privelege to park, which included a box lunch and a pair of eclipse glasses. Sounds good to me. At least I wouldn't have to worry about being run off before the event. Plus, I would have a place to use the restroom and charge my phone. A few more people showed up over the course of the remaining hours. All in all, there were perhaps a couple dozen people overall. I chatted with a few of them, including some who brought telescopes for the event.
Eventually, clouds began to affect the northern half of the sky. These included sparse cirrus and some cumulus towers on the northern horizon. It looks like my decision to bypass southern Illinois was a good one. Clouds would not become an issue for the remainder of the eclipse.
At 11:55 local time, the moon began to eat into the sun. It was like a typical eclipse outing in the school yard, or wherever I'd seen these partial eclipses before. The remaining portion of the sun became smaller and smaller. The disk with a bite turned into a crescent, and then into a sliver. Shadows were taking on a strange appearance. One side was blurry and another extremely sharp. If you cupped your hand just right, you could make a little pinhole projection of a crescent on the ground. The dappled light beneath tree canopies revealed hundreds of 'eclipses'.
The darkening was gradual at first. It looked as if I was viewing the world with sunglasses on... but those were in my pocket. A bird noticed the dimming of the light and proceeded with its evening song. This was the first bird I'd heard the entire time I was there. At one point, a lady next to me pointed at something that looked like a balloon. I looked over, and... yep, looks like a weather balloon. After a bit, I realized that we were actually looking at Venus. I was fooled because it otherwise looked like normal daytime lighting. Things had gotten really dim, but my eyes had dark-adapted along with it. Eventually, my eyes wouldn't keep up...
I could have chosen to view the eclipse from some majestic locale like the Grand Tetons, Mount Jefferson, or the Great Smokies. Instead, I ended up in a church parking lot in small-town America. Ironically, the modest setting of Eddyville would make the transcendent experience of totality that much more striking.
After using the restroom for (hopefully) the last time, I returned to the parking lot for the final countdown. A few minutes out, everything still appeared normal, though a bit darker. At some point, one could actually perceive the increasing dimming. The chatter of the small crowd was rising in volume. The excitement was building. The 'rules' of the familiar natural world were bending, and many present knew that they would soon be turned on their head.
At some point, the high cirrus clouds in the northwest faded and disappeared. That was the first obvious sign of the approaching shadow. Oh, did I mention that the excitement was building? It was like the feeling you get when you're cresting the top of a roller coaster. As you are slowly starting your descent, you know the big drop is coming.
Soon after, the horizon was starting to take on a pinkish hue, and then the closer cumulus towers began to fade. It was getting dark FAST.
8681_1322-CDT_just_before_totality_67%.jpg 86.49KB 3 downloads
Since I was very weary of looking directly at the sun before complete coverage, I tracked the progress of the eclipse by watching my shadow on the ground. Just as I saw the shimmering sunlight switch to a cold, shadowless pall, I swung around and looked up to behold a sight that words fail to describe.... but I'll try anyway. The massive dark void of the moon's shadow had overtaken the sun and was sweeping the remaining daylit sky to the east. The fading dazzle of the sun had been transformed into a luminous ring basking in a warm, golden glow. This glow surrounding the eclipsed sun was striking and unexpected. This image (I modified someone else's photo) gives an impression of what I saw:
Eclipse3b.jpg 217.23KB 3 downloads
The scene was like something out of a science fiction movie, or perhaps from the supernatural. Revelation 6 comes to mind: ".... The sun turned black... The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up...."
The yellow glow faded fairly quickly to reveal the full splendor of the silvery corona that you've seen in many eclipse photos. In real life, this luminescence has an appearance unlike anything I've ever seen. The inner portion near the darkened moon's limb can be described as brilliant, while the outer extensions had an almost pearly luster, with a very slightly greenish-yellow hue. Overall, the eclipsed sun was about as bright as the full moon at night. The surrounding sky had a quality that wasn't quite like a typical twilit sky. It was indigo overhead, with 360 degrees of twilight around the horizon.
I tried to use 7x50 binoculars, but my shaking hands rendered them almost useless. In a panic, I ran over to hold them against the side of my car in hopes that I could get a steady view. My experience with the binocs was disappointing, but it did help me crystallize in memory some details of totality. I sketched this image to preserve my recollection of what I saw:
Totality-impression-f.jpg 180.08KB 3 downloads
I did tease out a little more detail, including faint coronal tendrils extending from the sun's north pole (top), a ruddy prominence within the inner corona (on the right, at '3:00'), and Regulus (left of the sun). (For this drawing, I found an adequate photo online for a base, and then heavily modified it with Photoshop from what I retained in memory.)
Toward the end of totality, the right side of the inner corona began to brighten and take on an pinkish orange hue (I never saw the chromosphere clearly). I started to get antsy about the imminent return of blinding sunlight. Just as I glanced over to the northwest to see the encroaching daylight sky, the ground began to light up. Darn it! I missed the diamond ring.
The landscape and sky brightened as rapidly as it had faded three minutes ago. While fumbling around, I happened to catch the sliver of sunlight in the corner of my eye. I must say that was by far the most intense light I'd ever seen. In a matter of mere seconds, the receding shadow faded into a typical daytime sky. Three bats flew overhead, rushing back to their shelter.
I then took the time to eat the box lunch provided by the church folks in preparation for the long drive home.
I was disappointed that I didn't see the diamond ring, but it is probably just as well that I didn't. At least in 2024, I'll be ready.
Edited by Exeligmos, 14 September 2017 - 02:46 AM.