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Saturday, September 2, 2017
Total Eclipse Of The Sun
On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse was visible in the
U.S. literally from coast to coast as it moved across the country—from the
Pacific Ocean on the west coast to the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast. I
traveled to an area where I could see the total solar eclipse. The area we
selected was the town of Hiawatha, Kansas, (population of a little over 3000)
in the far northeast corner of the state.
In Wichita, where I currently live, the eclipse was going to be 94%. But
when a 3.5 hour drive can get the total eclipse, we decided that was the thing
In Hiawatha (central time zone), the eclipse started at
11:39AM and concluded at 2:33PM with totality occurring at 1:06PM and lasting
for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.
We bought our eclipse glasses about 2 weeks in advance. I
spent lots of time going over all the settings on my DSLR camera that I don't
normally use to make sure I could photograph everything with quick efficiency. Traffic-wise,
we anticipated crowded roads so we left before daylight. The drive up was
surprisingly quick and easy, normal traffic moving along as highway speeds.
Rather than finding a quiet place on a country road
somewhere, we headed for Hiawatha's city park which had been set up as the
center of eclipse activity. Parking was a reasonable $5. Just 2 blocks away
from the city park, a church was charging $20 for use of their parking lot
(however, I suspect that it might have been an overnight parking fee for motor
homes and recreational vehicles).
At the city park, the main recreation building housed a
demonstration and talk by NASA personnel in the auditorium and the gym had been
opened for children. Outside in the open grassy areas, a band provided live
music, one of the television stations (I'm assuming from Topeka, Ks) set up for
a live broadcast, about a dozen food trucks were on site and they offered a
wide variety of choices rather than everything being the same. Lots of picnic
tables and even a beer garden. There were, of course, the normal mandatory
souvenir stands selling T-shirts and other Eclipse-themed items. But the main
attraction was the rapidly approaching time for the eclipse.
clouds closing in as eclipse starts
Since viewing the sun at mid day is a matter of looking
straight up rather than at a stage, there were no bad seats. Everyone was the
same 93 million miles away from the show with an unobstructed view of the event.
But…as the old saying goes, into every life a little rain must fall. And so it was on August
21, 2017, in Hiawatha, Kansas.
That whole portion of the state had been having off and on
rain for several days. The forecast for Hiawatha for August 21 said partly
cloudy with possibility of showers. The morning looked pretty good, then the
clouds rolled in. But we weren't worried. It was not a solid cloud cover, it
was your basic intermittent coming and going cloud cover with the sun visible
most of the time.
last picture before clouds cut off view
Until about 12:30, approximately an hour into the eclipse
and half an hour prior to totality, when the partially cloudy turned into definite
storm clouds and started to rain. And that pretty much describes the weather
for the rest of the day.
However, the 2 minutes 34 seconds of totality was not lost
on us even though the sun/eclipse was not visible. The cloud cover broke at the
horizon. As anticipated, the sky became dark (however not black like midnight
on a moonless night) and street lights came on in response. The temperature
noticeably dropped, but the rain helped that along. The most intriguing part of
the obscured eclipse was the color and feel of the air.
The color was twilight, but not really. A combination of
many hues, but no specific one. A soft glow that seemed to surround rather than
coming from a single direction.
When I say feel,
I'm not referring to the sense of touch. The feel was somehow ethereal—aesthetic
rather than tactile. The very air surrounding us oozed an almost surreal awareness,
a sensation of awe, a perception that can't be explained using mere words.
after the eclipse
But reality soon set in. What was a 3.5 hour drive to
Hiawatha, Kansas, was an 8 hour drive home. The highway was literally a parking
Even though we could not see the moment of totality, the
experience was well worth the trip.