Sunday, August 20, 2017

Eclipse Frenzy in St. Joseph, Missouri

Our hotel includes a breakfast buffet.  We made our way down and the eating area was packed!  I guess that is to be expected when the hotel is booked to capacity.  But we also noticed that Mr. Mike Reynolds was speaking and answering questions.  Mr. Reynolds is a professor at Florida State College in Jacksonville, FL and a photographer for Astronomy magazine.  He travels the world to view eclipses and this will be his 19th eclipse to see in person.  He and a group of about 100 people drove from Jacksonville to watch the eclipse in St. Joseph.  See, I told you this is THE place to watch it.  He was answering a lot of questions about what to expect during the eclipse and especially what to expect if it is overcast and rainy during the eclipse.


He said that they chose to come to St. Joseph after a lot of research on weather at this time of year in all of the cities in the path of totality.  They decided that St. Joseph would be the best chance for getting a great view of the eclipse.  However, there is a lot of clouds and possible storms expected for the eclipse.  Stuart talked to him about the idea of driving somewhere else along the path to get out of the cloud cover.  Mr. Reynolds told him that he would drive but there was cloud cover all over for the any of the cities nearby that were in the path.  Stuart did some research on other cities in the path of totality and compared them to the weather forecasts and found that we would have to drive 11 hours to get to Wyoming to be guaranteed a clear sky for the eclipse.  We decided to stay put and hope for the best.

There was a lot of excitement in the air about the eclipse.  Everyone was talking about it, there were signs about it everywhere, and the paper talked about the traffic concerns again.


There was even a musical revue about the eclipse.  We didn't make plans to see it but I would have liked to.


We found out about a series of speakers who were going to be talking about the eclipse at Missouri Western State University.  When we got there, I couldn't help but notice the license plates in the parking lot were from all over the country - California, Nevada, Iowa, Illinois, Colorado, New Jersey, Wisconsin.

The first speaker was Michael Bakich.  He talked about what an eclipse is and the prenumbra (partial eclipse) and umbra (total eclipse).  He also described the importance of seeing an eclipse in totality vs. just close to totality. He said that even the difference between 95% totality and 100% totality was huge.  If you were viewing an eclipse in an area that had 95% totality, the sky would be 50,000 times brighter than if you were in 100% totality and therefore the experience would just not be the same.  He said there was no reason to view a partial eclipse if there was any way that you could get to an area that had a total eclipse.

He talked about what specifically to look for during an eclipse.  These are effects that can only be viewed in the path of totality.  First he talked about the Diamond Ring.  Just a moment before the moon completely covers the sun and for just a moment as the moon starts to leave the sun, the light from the sun peaks out at one spot and against the dark sky and ring of light around the moon, it appears to look like a diamond ring in the sky.


Then he talked about Bailey's Beads which occurs right after the diamond ring.  As the light from the sun is almost completely covered, the little bit of light that is still visible is peeking out through the topography of mountains and hills on the moon. It appears as little beads of light.  It gets its name from an astronomer named Frances Bailey who was the first to see them back in 1800.


During a total eclipse, you might also be able to see the sun's chromosphere.  It is one of the layers of the sun's atmosphere and during an eclipse you might see it as a red rim around the moon.  I had not heard of this before!


Of course, the highlight of the total eclipse was to see the sun's corona shining in all of its glory against the dark sphere of the moon.  Corona gets its name from the latin word for "crown".  Wow!  That looks so cool!


We also learned what stars and planets might be visible once the sky gets completely dark during totality.


He also talked about the possibility of traffic problems from people coming to view the eclipse in the path of totality.  In the picture below the black line represents the path of 100% total eclipse.  12.25 million people live in a city along that path.  They get to walk outside their door and view the total eclipse in all of its wonder.  The blue line contains 47 million people, the yellow line 88 million people and the orange line 127.5 million people.  


If all of these people realize the incredible difference in their eclipse viewing experience that just a short drive can bring them then there could be massive congestion on the roads tomorrow!  And then there are all of the crazies like us that drive even farther for the experience.  He described what could be like a zombie apocalypse except zombies only want brains, not gas, food, water, and a place to park a car.  I'm so glad we get to just stay off the roads tomorrow!  


The next total eclipse will be going right through our town in just 7 years.  We are considering this our trial run so we will be better prepared with what to expect and be able to take some amazing pictures next time.


The next speaker was Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute.  He talked about the history of eclipses.  He said that we have been able to predict eclipses since about 2200 B.C.  He talked about people in the ancient past had all kinds of explanations about what an eclipse was and how mythology formed around the events.  He even talked about how Christopher Columbus used an eclipse to convince the natives that he had some kind of power to control the sky.


He pointed out that people today are more educated and connected to a solar eclipse than ever before because of the internet and social media.  People can easily use their smart phones to share their experiences with hundreds of millions of people.

The next speaker was Dr. Mike Reynolds who we had spoken to at our hotel.  He had a lot of technical information about how to photograph the eclipse.  For us and our crummy equipment, we were just going to use an extra pair of eclipse glasses over our camera lenses to protect the sensors.  During the actual totality we could remove the glasses and take regular pictures.  But Dr. Reynolds also said that if this is your first eclipse, don't stress over pictures.  Look around, notice the changes around you, talk to your family, enjoy the experience.  There will be plenty of great professional pictures of the eclipse that you can look at later.


Finally, the speaker that we were all waiting for...Bryan Busby, Chief Meterologist at KMBC Kansas City told us a little about what to expect from the weather during the time of the eclipse.  He started with explaining the times.


Eclipse Duration 2 hours, 53 minutes, 49 seconds
Totality will last 2 minutes and 41 seconds
The Eclipse will begin at 11:40
Totality will begin at 1:06:24, peak at 1:07:44, and end at 1:09:05
The Eclipse will end at 2:34:30

He also had a graphic to show the expected temperature and drop in temperature during actual totality. It shows a 16 degree drop in temperature for that short time while the sun is completely hidden behind the moon. 


We all wanted to throw tomatoes at Mr. Busby when he showed us this forecast showing clouds and 30% chance of storms during eclipse totality.  But he was quick to try to calm us by reminding us that weather changes all the time and as long as it isn't actually storming we should still have a wonderful experience even if we can't see the total eclipse due to clouds.  He said we will still see the world go completely dark, street lights will come on, crickets will start to chirp, the temperature will drop, and there will be a 360 degree sunset on the horizon.


Afterwards we caught up with Dr. Reynolds again to ask about our plan to use eclipse glasses over our camera and he reassured us that we did need to have some kind of protective lens over the camera or the sunlight would be so bright that it could ruin our cameras.


The speakers were just amazing and they got me even more excited to be in St. Joseph to view totality, even though the weather could turn out to be disappointing.  We headed to downtown to find some lunch.  There are a lot of old red brick buildings in town...and a van on top of a building!


We parked and as we were walking to the restaurant, the kids noticed some unusual features about the building.  There were doors with no stairs for access and what looked like arched windows or doorways on the street level that had been filled with brick.


Here is a window that looks out under this grate in the sidewalk.  How odd!


We chose a little comfort food from home today and had lunch at Boudreaux's.  The name should give it away - Louisiana Cajun food!


As I made my way up the steps, I noticed this little bitty window that again looked out under the grate on the steps.  WHY???


Ahh, crawfish, street lamps, and a Mardi Gras mask on the cover of the menu and a big tiger and LSU art work all around the restaurant.  It felt like home!


And the menu looked great too!  These are just the appetizers!!


I had some boudin balls.  They were good but could have had a bit more spice.  I imagine Missouri might not be used to real New Orleans spicy food so they have to tone it down a notch.


I ordered jambalaya with a side of jalepeno pasta.  They were both delicious!


On the way to back to the hotel, I noticed this building.  I love the round corner.  There is some neat architecture here.  I wish I had time to research the style and learn more about it.


As we drove around we checked out East Hills Mall and decided it really wasn't any better than the view from our hotel parking lot so we decided that we would just stay put tomorrow.  We also found a few places that welcomed visitors to come watch the eclipse.


Most private businesses had signed like this one below stating that parking was for their guests only and others would be towed.  Our hotel gave us a card to put on our dash stating that we were guests and allowed to park in their lot.  All other cars would be towed.  This had been one of my concerns when we were going to be driving to St. Joseph from Kansas City.  What place would let us just park and hang out for a few hours along with all of the other people that would be traveling there for the eclipse too? 


We made it back to the hotel in time for the 5:30 Kick Back!  It's a free dinner buffet at the hotel.  Like breakfast, it was very crowded and everyone was talking about the eclipse.  Check out this eclipse dress!  It reminds me of a dress that Mrs. Frizzle in the Magic School Bus book series would wear!  I love it.


One of the extra nice benefits of the 5:30 Kick Back is that it includes 3 free drinks from the bar.  Yep, that's a Tequila Sunrise.  I had to pick a sky-themed drink in honor of the eclipse!


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