On each trip, umbraphiles face a cruel reality: There’s no app for good weather. Scrutinizing weather reports and local weather patterns, and planning for contingency routes to alternate viewing sites if inclement weather strikes, are essential to avoiding a total buzz kill.
“We got rained out in 1998 in Antigua,” Brown notes. “Literally speaking, I was crying.”
Buchwald recalls a frantic chain of events prompted by a typhoon that hit the coast of China in 2008 shortly before a total solar eclipse, eliminating all four potential sites he had scouted for an eclipse-watcher tour. But because he had studied weather maps for months, he knew that weather systems tended to split when they hit a local mountain range, creating open skies.
“To get there, we found buses to take our 110-person party on a 45-minute drive,” he explains. “My friend and I took a taxi out there the night before the eclipse and staked out an area in a public park. The next morning, the rest of the group joined us, and we saw the entire eclipse. Five minutes after it was complete, it clouded up.
“That’s where planning and understanding the local phenomena are so important,” he adds. “You get one shot at it. There’s no rewind button.”
Kentrianakis took a two-week sea cruise in August 1999 to see a total solar eclipse that was visible across Europe. The cruise featured an at-sea rendezvous on the totality path, but cloudy skies threatened.
“I was freaking out,” he says. “But I brought along a shortwave radio, and I heard local residents on the Isles of Scilly saying the clouds were breaking.
“So I rolled up the maps I’d brought along and ran up to the bridge, where I was allowed to see the captain,” he continues. “I told him we have to move the ship to clearer skies or we won’t see the eclipse. He refused. In the end, we saw totality for 30 seconds, but nothing else. All he had to do was send the ship a little farther forward …”
Eclipse tourism has grown in popularity over the last decade, so seeing one has never been easier. And no matter what the cost, Brown says a total solar eclipse should be on everyone’s bucket list.
“After you see one, you’ll want to see another one,” he says. “I’ve never met anyone who saw one and had no intention of ever seeing another one. It’s always up there on their list of things to do.”
Adds Kentrianakis: “I’m still nervous about traveling to dangerous places. But I will venture somewhere like that if it’s for an eclipse. Suddenly, I’ve got all this gusto.”
For these eclipsomaniacs, it’s clearly all about grabbing that little slice of shade.
I’ll Follow the Sun
Interested in becoming a certified umbraphile? Here’s a list of upcoming total solar eclipses so you can start planning your trip to totality:
Nov. 13, 2012: Visible from northern Australia and the southern Pacific Ocean
March 20, 2015: Visible from the Faroe Islands, Svalbard and the north Atlantic Ocean
March 9, 2016: Visible from Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and the southern Pacific Ocean
Aug. 21, 2017: Visible from a 70-mile-wide path across the United States, including Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina, plus the northern Pacific and southern Atlantic oceans
July 2, 2019: Visible from Chile and Argentina and the southern Pacific Ocean
Visit eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov for a complete list of all upcoming eclipses.