On Monday, August 21, 2017, a 2,200-mile-long, coast-to-coast swath of the United States stretching from Lincoln Beach, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina, will experience a total solar eclipse, when the moon completely blocks out the sun and only the sun’s corona is visible. As the moon casts its shadow, midday darkness ensues, if only for just a few minutes (or seconds).
This, as they say, is a Big Deal — one of nature’s true wonders, the stuff of myth and memory.
The last time a total solar eclipse crossed the entire continental United States was in 1918 — almost a century ago. (There have been several other instances where total solar eclipses could be viewed in certain regions of the country — the last in 1979, when only Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota were treated to the celestial spectacle.)
Residents — and visitors to — parts of 14 states will get to witness this event, weather conditions permitting.
To be sure, that’s a big “if.” Clouds and rain can mess up a good eclipse, so you may want to check the long-range weather forecasts before scurrying off to one location or the next.
Also keep in mind that the areas experiencing total eclipse are in a fairly narrow band that runs across the continent. In other parts of the U.S., as well as in parts of Latin America and Europe, you’ll be able to view a partial eclipse, which should darken the sky a bit but not produce the night-like sky of totality.
In those areas, you’ll need to use special eclipse glasses to protect your eyes. (Note: eyeglass maker Warby Parker is giving away free eclipse viewing glasses at all its stores starting August 1. You can also enter their Facebook contest to win a free trip to Nashville — which lies right in the totality path of the eclipse; enter by the end of July.)
The U.S. should see an upsurge in tourism in the days leading up to the eclipse, as both residents and foreign visitors flock to the best viewing sites. You may find hotel rooms already booked up for those areas, so dust off your contact info for those long-forgotten cousins in Corvallis, Oregon, or Kansas City, Missouri, who just might be willing to put you up.
As for me, despite having generous relatives who live right in the path of the eclipse in Illinois, I’m having cataract eye surgery around that time and probably should stick close to home. But there’s another total eclipse coming to the U.S. in 2024 — not as extensive as this one, but a good excuse to visit my childhood home in Indiana, which lies right along its path.
Here are the prime viewing spots state by state:
Oregon: The eclipse will reach land at Lincoln Beach at 10:15 a.m. and continue for almost two minutes. Shortly afterwards, the total eclipse will be visible in Corvallis, Salem, and some smaller communities; Portland is too far north, Eugene too far south for totality.
Idaho: Idaho Falls, Rexburg, Borah Peak (Idaho’s highest point). Boise and Pocatello are too far south for totality.
Montana: Only eight square miles of far southwestern Montana will be in totality, and none of it is populated. May we suggest instead:
Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park is right in the path, as is the city of Casper.
Nebraska: Stapleton, Grand Island, and Lincoln are all good choices. Omaha will just see a partial eclipse.
Kansas: towns in the far northeastern corner of the state are the places to be: Atchison, Hiawatha, Seneca. Topeka will not witness totality.
Iowa: Like Montana, another dud state. The total eclipse path will cross just a small portion of southwestern Iowa — only about 450 acres. So if you live in Iowa, consider trekking to Kansas or, better yet:
Missouri: One of the best states for viewing, at least in terms of population that live along the path. Both Kansas City and St. Louis lie along it; the northern edge of Kansas City and the southern edge of St,. Louis are the best viewing areas (downtown St. Louis is too far north, so make up some excuse for taking a long lunch a bit after 1 p.m.). St. Joseph and Columbia, the state capital, are also along the path.
Illinois: Southern Illinois — the towns of Carbondale and Marion — are the best viewing places for totality. In fact, a national forest just south of Carbondale will yield the longest stretch of totality in the country: two minutes and 44 seconds, at about 1:20 p.m. local time. Chicago is way too far north to see more than a partial eclipse.
Kentucky: Head to Paducah, Eddyville or Hopkinsville in the western part of the state for prime viewing. Louisville and Lexington are outside the path.
Tennessee: The shadow passes right over Nashville. Murfreesboro and the towns of Sparta and Baxter are also good viewing locations. Chattanooga and Knoxville are partial views only.
North Carolina: The place to view is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park — but only the western part of it — and the farther west, the better. Charlotte and Asheville are too far east.
Georgia: The path crosses over a small portion of the northwestern corner of the state; try the towns of Clayton or Toccoa, or Black Rock Mountain State Park. Atlanta, Athens — no such luck.
South Carolina: Greenville, Columbia, Sumter, Lake Marion, and Charleston are all along the path. The shadow leaves American land at 2:48 p.m. EDT at McClellanville and heads out to sea — just about one and a half hours after first darkening the skies over Oregon.
Eclipse viewing packing checklist:
Photography equipment (remember new batteries and memory cards!)
Special viewing glasses
Webcast equipment (optional)
Comfortable chairs and a table for laying out equipment
Sunscreen (counter-intuitive? Perhaps, but only for a couple of minutes)
Smartphone for checking weather and exact times
Picnic lunch and refreshment (optional)
Readers: What are your travel plans for the eclipse, if any?