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Eclipse 2024 Was a Life-Changing Experience

John Baranick
By  John Baranick , DTN Meteorologist
The total eclipse on April 8, 2024, as captured in a screenshot from NASA's live broadcast of the eclipse as it passed through Arkansas. (Screenshot from NASA website broadcast)

On Aug. 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse was seen throughout much of the United States as the path of totality trekked from Oregon to South Carolina. I was stuck at work in Minneapolis, but figuring that we were expected to see about 83% coverage, I figured I could pop out near totality and get a good visual. There were some clouds that day, but we could still see the sun through them. And they probably protected my eyes a bit since I didn't have official glasses and relied upon my sunglasses and short bursts of peeking. (Not a great idea, by the way.)

But even with the sunlight 83% blocked by the moon, it didn't get noticeably darker outside. Nor did it get cooler or any of the other interesting effects that have been reported during an eclipse. A few of my coworkers that were outside with me were a little disappointed as well. There was one interesting item that occurred and that was the effect through leaves.…. Tiny holes in the leaves leave eclipse-shaped shadows on the ground, and that was pretty cool, I guess. But it wasn't the full effect.

And after some coworkers and friends who either lived in the path of totality or decided to make the trip beamed over their experiences during the actual event, I made sure that I wasn't going to miss the next one. Lucky for me, the next total eclipse that would move across the U.S. would be less than seven years later, on April 8, 2024. I made a note to myself for one year early, on April 8, 2023, to prepare -- take PTO, get the proper glasses, and find a good spot and reserve it. I was not going to miss this event, because who knows if I'll be around for the next one that moves through the U.S. in 2045. I wasn't going to take that chance. (Note: The next total eclipse in North America is actually in 2044, but will only be in three U.S. states).

So, after some crude research about cloud climatology and distance from home, I chose Hot Springs, Arkansas, which happens to be one of two National Parks to be in the path of totality (the other being Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio). My family and I have made it a goal of ours to travel to all 63 National Parks and this coincidence just could not be ignored.

And so far, we have made a nice extended weekend of it, with or without the eclipse, which had been threatened by cloud cover in the week leading up to the event. On the way down from Minnesota, we stopped at a really pretty chapel in northern Arkansas that interested my oldest son's architectural ambitions. Hot Springs National Park is a treasure by itself; I suggest you check it out. The idea of hot water coming out of the ground being just hot enough to feel like a hot tub but cool and safe enough to drink has been mind-blowing. One of my twin boys thought it so fascinating that it's the first natural wonder that he hasn't wanted to leave. We also visited Crater of Diamonds State Park where we dug for diamonds (none found, unfortunately), and got some good local fare. Though we came down for the eclipse, we at least made a good trip out of it.

But we lucked out and the cloud forecast from a week ago was a terrible forecast. Most models had a thick blanket of clouds from Texas up through Arkansas and might have put a damper on our trip. I'm glad we went anyway. Outside of a faint streak of high cirrus clouds nearby, it was a gorgeous, sunny day and the view of the eclipse was perfect. Totality in my location was between 1:50 and 1:54 p.m. CDT. At 1 p.m., it was not even noticeable. It took until probably 1:35 p.m. before it even started to be noticeably darker. But once that started, it accelerated. At 1:49 p.m. you could start to hear "oohs" and "aahs" from the crowd on the beach we found near our rental to spend our afternoon and view the eclipse. About 100 of us cheered as the diamond ring shape briefly showed up, then totality. My family and I took off our solar glasses and the ring around the moon that had covered up the sun was an incredible sight to behold. Streaks of white light burst around the moon and seemed to dance in the sky. The wonder and awe that surrounded us from all around us, children, teens, adults, the elderly, all of us staring with amazement at the sight above our heads. The collective excitement of this group will be almost as memorable as the event itself.

I had heard testimony that the animals go crazy, that different insects become audible, and flowers close. Possibly because I was in a group of people, or because there was a slight breeze, I did not witness those same things. I did notice that some birds were starting to make their evening noises, but that seemed to be about it. A couple of planets were also visible. I don't know for sure, but they were probably Jupiter and Venus from the research I did afterward. A smile didn't leave my face during the whole four-minute event.

The diamond ring that came back on the other side of totality came briefly again. The skies brightened nearly immediately and our group needed to put the solar glasses back on again. To the south, you could see the bright light coming and to the north, it still looked like night, something similar but strangely different from dawn or dusk. It took maybe 10 minutes to become bright again to where you could not even notice the majority of the sun was still being blocked by the moon.

The event may have only really had a noticeable effect for about half an hour, but it will leave me and my family with a lifetime full of memories. My only regret, and that is a very minor one, is that I didn't get a really good picture of it despite my tripod setup with two different cameras. User error at its finest. (The photo with this blog is a screenshot from NASA's live broadcast of the eclipse as it passed through Arkansas. You can see the entire broadcast at….)

A colleague of mine who had witnessed the total eclipse back in 2017 mentioned to me that she understood why ancient civilizations held such reverence for these sorts of events and I have to agree. It was truly inspiring, absurd, and amazing. Words make it nearly impossible to describe the event I witnessed. When the next one comes back around to the U.S. in 2045, I will find myself in the path of totality again, assuming I'll still be around and mobile enough to go witness it. And I'll probably have a better camera at that time, too.

John Baranick can be reached at


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