Tips on How to Avoid Crushing Crowds of the Eclipse: Head for Cover
Given the choice between traffic-clogged roads or cloud-darkened skies, our intrepid eclipse chaser selects a third way: seeking out better weather. Who is to say he didn’t find exactly what he needed?
“Seek and you will find” is not a bad piece of advice for life’s journey, or so say Matthew and Luke.
Ask the Rolling Stones, and they will say “You can’t always get what you want.”
So it was with the Great Eclipse of 2017.
During the first few weeks of August, Western Illinois saw a large number of blue-sky, cloudless days with temperatures in the 70s and 80s. My type of summer. Perfect for the big event.
Would the wonderful weather hold for just a few more days? Nope. Instead, here came the three “H’s” of August – Hazy, Hot, and Humid – Mother Nature’s way of eclipsing the eclipse.
Partial eclipses of the sun are pretty neat, but this was the big one, 97 percent totality at home and 100 percent within a couple of hours’ drive.
August 21 dawned cloudy and stormy. Would the clouds clear away? Promises. Promises.
Checking the radar and the satellite images, I decided to head an hour or so southwest toward Quincy, Illinois, where it appeared the sky was clearing.
I left later than I should have, but there were plenty of open places to pull off along the way.
And so I stopped near the Hancock-Adams County line, northeast of Quincy.
Plenty of clouds. Absolutely no crowds.
An absolutely tantalizing patch of blue toward the east. A thunder shower toward the northwest. The temperature was dropping, with a cool southern breeze. Except for a few passing cars, it was pretty quiet: one or two crickets whose chirps lasted about five seconds, and that was about it.
Except for the wonderful surprise above: A multi-shaded gray and white sky with hints of pink swirling around the leaden storm line that occasionally flashed with lightening. With a barn and grain bin nearby, maybe it was OK. I couldn’t hear thunder, anyway.
The quality of light was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, brightness of the cloud tops splashed into and through the thinner and thicker layers, dynamic turbulence of different cloud layers, all richly textured, with that deeper blue, clear patch moving away….
Eclipse purists likely would have been disappointed. Understandable.
But this was a stunning show of restless twilight at midday, a recognition that the here-and-now of standing in a Midwestern farmyard where a house used to stand shares local weather conditions and the cosmic forces of the moon casting its occasional presence before the sun as it has for eons and will continue to do.
That was the big thought I had to accompany the delightfully cool air and dimmer light.
If I should live so long, I’ll be treated to another full eclipse near our area in 2024. Seven years to wait.
Sure, I’d like to have seen this eclipse in totality. If I’d followed my plan to head over to Mexico, Missouri…. Well, the skies were clear there, but that, judging by the maps, was a risky way to spend two-and-a-half hours driving.
So, I hit the road to seek and find, hoping for clearer weather nearby. Perhaps I didn’t get what I wanted, but the spectacle was what I needed, or so I can rationalize.
If I hadn’t gone out to seek and find, I would have stayed at home only to find out that the clouds opened up in time for the eclipse climax, offering a pretty good view for a few minutes until they closed back up.
In some cosmic sense, I can take the joke and be glad for the experience out there.
Timothy Collins is an independent writer, editor, and consultant and proprietor of Then and Now Media. From 2005 to 2016, he was assistant director for research, policy, outreach, and sustainability at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University in Macomb. He is the author of a recently released fantasy book, Memories of Santa Claus, as well as Selling the State: Economic Development Policy in Kentucky.