The 2017 Great American Eclipse – A Reflection

  • Aug 29, 2017

By Earth Networks Lead Field Meteorologist, Benjamin Michalak

The 2017 Great American Eclipse

For months I have had the eclipse scheduled on my work calendar.  I was unsure what I was going to do. Heck, it was a good 250 miles to totality and one good cloud could ruin it all!  Back and forth I went in my mind as to what to do, which is something that I do often. Such a big event like this; was this something I wanted to miss out on?  As the days came closer to the show, I kept asking people if I should drive down to the path of totality. Would I regret making the trip?  

Finally, Friday, August 18th came and I made up my mind to go see it. Since I waited so long, hotel rooms were long gone. Sure there were houses to rent but at a high cost.  Luckily, my mother was staying at a campground nearby. Great, now I had a place to stay and could even spend some time with my mom.

The drive down was long and boring as usual. I have made that drive countless times and it never gets any easier.  However, this time was different; there was a certain buzz in the air.  I saw many caravans of people with signs on their cars and many out of state plates from a lot farther than where I live.  Maybe, there was something to this.  I have heard that there are eclipse chasers. Those are people who travel all over the world to see eclipses. Something, about that seemed strange to me. “I mean, it’s just an eclipse, how great could it be?” I have seen many lunar eclipses and sure they are neat, but nothing really significant.  Well, that was all about to change.  


Monday, August 21st, 11:52 AM CST

Photo courtesty of Benjamin Michalak

As I walked out of my mother’s camper, I put on my special eclipse glasses and gazed towards the sun.  What had shown through the glasses was a small orange ball. No bigger than the size of a half dollar at arm’s length.  I have never seen the sun before and looking at it seemed strange. There, in the upper right-hand side, I was able to see the tiniest sliver of the moon creeping in.  This is what is known as the first contact.


I yelled over to my mom to tell her it’s beginning and she was just as in awe as I was. Over the next hour, the moon slowly made its journey across the sun’s path.  From time to time we would come out into the blazing heat to sneak a peek at what was happening.  More and more of the sun was being eclipsed. As the time got closer to totality, this is when things really started to ramp up.   


1:00 PM CST

This was around the first time we noticed the climate changing. Local weather that day was nasty. Temperatures were in the high 80’s and dew points were in the upper to high 70’s. Needless to say, we didn’t spend much time outside watching the eclipse.  We would go from inside the camper to outside to grab a view and snap a few pictures. But around 1 pm that all changed. Enough of the sun was being blocked to where it seemed to be comfortable outside. Sure the temperature was the same, but the solar irradiance was considerably less.

We spent the majority of time outside watching the changes around us.  The birds seemed to quiet down and settle in the trees.  The cicadas were beginning to chirp slowly at first; just like they do on a summer night.  Everything around us was illuminated to a peculiar hue. It’s almost as if the sun was on a dimmer switch.  The shadows on the ground didn’t lengthen; the sun just became less bright. This was an eerie sight and feeling.   

1:19 PM CST – Totality! 

Photo courtesty of Benjamin Michalak

Words cannot even begin to describe was happening.  We were in the complete shadow of the moon.  People were cheering, some were crying, everyone was in awe! There was so much to take in, so much to look at. The clouds out in the distance were illuminated with blue, purple and orange hues. We were in a 360-degree sunset. Everywhere around us, in every direction you looked, the sunset was upon us. For the first time in my life, I was able to look directly at the sun without the use of filters or special glasses.  


What we saw was not a bright glowing orb, but only the outermost plasma of the sun, the corona. Normally, without an eclipse, this is hidden from view with the naked eye. Only during a total eclipse will the corona be visible and even then you need to be in the area of totality.  The people at NASA said that the area I was in was to get 2 minutes of totality.  Those two minutes seemed like two seconds.  


1:21 PM CST Here Comes the Sun

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Michalak

As the first few rays hit us, our dim sun was as bright as it ever was.  Time to put back on the eclipse glasses, even with a pin hole of light coming towards us was enough to damage our eyes.  Just as if sunrise was upon us, the cicadas stopped chirping, birds were beginning to come around. It was amazing how quickly the air went from a cool summer’s day to bright, hot and sweltering.

Watching the light come back, the trees, grasses, and plants were brightened back to their normal shades and tones.  I found it quite fascinating how quickly people seemed to lose interest in the rest of the eclipse. There were still more phases to capture. Being where I was in the campground, people went on with their lives doing what they needed to do. The family next to us was getting ready to leave to make the long drive back north as I was going to do soon.  I stayed there occasionally looking at the sun to see where the moon was.

Back to Normal

Over the next hour or so, sunlight was back to normal and if you didn’t know there was an eclipse that day it just seemed like any other summer day.  The buzz was gone.  I took the remaining pictures of the moon’s path, gathered my gear and began the long trip home.

During the long drive home, being stuck in many traffic jams gave me time to think about the day.  What I had witnessed, what I had felt, and the waves of emotions came back thinking about totality. I can now fully understand why people chase eclipses. Without being there and without experiencing it, videos really do not do it justice.  So for all the people that didn’t decide to make the journey to totality. You really missed out. It is so much more than just an eclipse. I know where I will be in 2024, do you?

-Ben Michalak

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