Like the Boy Scout motto says, Be Prepared! You will NOT have the best possible eclipse experience if you are NOT prepared!
You will need to be in the right place at the right time on Monday, August 21, 2017 if you want to see the total eclipse of the Sun! And that means planning ahead! Those who make plans will be glad they did! And those who do not will be sorry! And since the media is still not talking about it, you can’t wait for them to get on board at the last minute, because by that time, it will be too late!
It’s my hope that everyone in the USA will at least consider being somewhere along the path of totality on Eclipse Day, August 21, 2017. It is widely agreed that there is no more amazing sight to see in this world than a total eclipse of the Sun, when night falls at a noon for several minutes. Even if you stay home that day, everyone in the USA will have a very deep partial solar eclipse. This is an odd, peculiar sight in itself, since the sunlight becomes feeble as the Sun is diminished, with the sky becoming grey and washed out. The temperatures drop by maybe 15 degrees at midday, and the animals behave strangely.
The point being, EVERYBODY in the USA will observe something that day, and the ones who prepare in advance will have the best experience.
SAFE SOLAR VIEWING: Whether you see totality or just a partial eclipse, you will want to see the eclipsed Sun during the partial phases. As explained on our Safe Viewing page, you can observe the Sun through a proper solar filter, or you can view a projected image. Inexpensive solar viewing glasses are readily available, such as our own commemorative Special Edition American Eclipse USA Eclipse Shades, sold through our online store.
You’ll want to have an ample supply of Eclipse Shades, for yourself and your family, but also for all your friends, neighbors and family. Eclipse Shades are cheap and can be used for later eclipses or to look at the Sun at any time. You can share them for free, or you can sell them at a profit! You can be sure that, once Eclipse Day arrives, no matter how many you have, you’ll be able to get rid of them! Trust me, it’s no fun sharing a single pair, passing them around among a group! And you’ll find that as the day approaches, Eclipse Shades will be in short supply from sellers (especially us)! Plan to have an ample supply in hand weeks (or better, months) before Eclipse Day.
As for seeing a projected image, you can make a pinhole camera or look through tree branches like we explain on our Safe Viewing page. But you can also visit your local planetarium or observatory! You can be sure that they will have very active public programs that entire day! They are bound to have several telescopes set up for projected and even filtered viewing of the eclipsed Sun. You can also find the local astronomy clubs in your area, and they will have several telescopes set up for this purpose. A database of local astronomy organizations around the USA and beyond is found at the Sky & Telescope web site.
ECLIPSE TRAVEL: Millions of Americans will be fortunate to have totality pass over their homes, or within a short drive of home. But the vast majority of Americans will have to travel in order to be along the path of the Moon’s shadow on Eclipse Day. Careful planning and execution will be required in order to insure that everyone arrives at their destination, and has a safe and enjoyable eclipse vacation.
Hotels — Unfortunately, many of the prime hotel rooms and other lodging accommodations are already long-booked for Eclipse Day. Veteran “eclipse chasers” from around the USA and the world have secured their reservations years in advance, anticipating the rush. But don’t be deterred! Just don’t expect to find five-star accommodations for the night!
Campgrounds — Many state and federal campgrounds do not accept reservations less than six months to a year in advance. So even during 2017, it might be possible to reserve camping facilities. Also, there are many commercial campgrounds in each state of the country. The smart, savvy campgrounds will be promoting theirs as an eclipse destination. Visit our USA Eclipse States page for a growing list of campgrounds on or near the path of totality.
National Parks and Forests — For more adventurous souls, “dispersed camping” is permissible for free in the National Forests, Parks and Recreation Areas, of which there are several on or near the path of totality. It’s “primitive camping” in that there are no amenities (water, toilets) and all garbage must be “packed in and packed out” in accordance with “leave no trace” principles. But camping opportunities on public lands are virtually unlimited. Visit our USA Eclipse States page for listings of National Parks, Forests and Recreation Areas in each state.
RVing — You can park a recreational vehicle just about anywhere, and there are RV parks in every state. RV rentals are not cheap, but offer a safe and comfortable option. Dispersed camping in the National Forests also includes “boondock” camping in an RV, with no hookups, which is not primitive at all. Free camping is allowed for 14 days in the National Forests, way long enough for the eclipse weekend.
Eclipse Events — Many communities along the eclipse path are already organizing eclipse gatherings, and these groups will likely provide information on local lodging at least for the evenings before and after the eclipse. Visit our USA Eclipse States page for information on local eclipse events in each of the twelve eclipse states.
Family and Friends — Do you have any friends or family in any of the eclipse states? Do they live along the eclipse path, or know someone who does? If so, why not arrange to visit as an overnight house guest during Eclipse Day? It won’t hurt to ask!
Social Media Friends — This eclipse would be a great chance to visit in person with your social media friends who live along the path. Maybe they would allow you and your family to stay overnight? You might also get some ideas from our Eclipse Hospitality page. For example, many people along the eclipse path will be listing any available accommodations through AirBnB.com, a travel website especially for hosts to connect directly with guests.
Arrive Early! — Wherever you end up that day, it is strongly encouraged that you have specific reservations in advance, and that you travel to your destination at least 24-48 hours prior to Eclipse Day. Please do not make a hasty, impromptu plan to make a day trip that day, unless you are in familiar territory, close to your destination. This is very important to avoid any complications that might potentially result from The American Eclipse Traffic Jam.
WEATHER: The conventional wisdom among veteran eclipse chasers is to select your viewing location according to the greatest likelihood of clear, dry weather. It would be very frustrating to travel such a long way to see this rare eclipse, only to get clouded or rained out!
A Dry Season — Thankfully, Eclipse Day 2017 is in late August, which is generally the driest and sunniest month of year for most places in the eastern USA. In fact, in western Kentucky, near the global centerpoint of greatest eclipse, local farmers in that area have long regarded the third week in August as the reliably driest week of the year. (As personally reported by Carter Hendricks, the Mayor of Hopkinsville, KY.)
Hurricanes — Dry season notwithstanding, some summers have lot of active Atlantic hurricanes, so the eastern USA can experience stormy weather in late August. Hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico can head north after making landfall and produce storms over Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky. Hurricanes coming ashore from the Atlantic can affect Georgia and the Carolinas. If 2017 turns out to be an active hurricane season, eclipse prospects in the southeast might be jeopardized.
Eclipse Weather Forecasting — According to the Eclipsophile weather page, the best long-term clear sky weather prospects for Monday, August 21, 2017 are in the western states along the path of totality, from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming and Nebraska. These states have been statistically determined to have more clear skies than the eastern states. Ideally, you want to select a viewing location in states with the best chance of clear skies, rather than longer duration of eclipse.
Not Always Practical — As sensible as such advice may be, it might not be practical for every family from the eastern states to travel out west, especially if they have small children. Also, if you look at a weather map for any particular day, there are always some clouds somewhere! This means that there are bound to be some people somewhere who will miss the eclipse, regardless of well-laid plans.
Relocate — If you do have clouds overhead at your intended viewing location, you might be able to drive to secure a better viewing spot. But if hundreds of people are doing the same thing at the same time, it might result in a traffic jam. The Moon’s shadow is going to pass overhead at the appointed time, whether you are sitting in your car or at your destination!
Chasing the Eclipse! Or rather, chase suitable eclipse weather! Make it your plan to move, if need be! Have a reserved overnight spot along the path of totality, and consider that your “home base” for the eclipse. Check the weather early in the morning on Eclipse Day using the Eclipsophile site, the National Weather Service, and any other weather sources that you trust. If the weather prospects are poor or unreliable, consider moving to a different observing location:
- Scout out other locations along the path of totality beforehand. Be ready on the morning of Eclipse Day to drive for several hours toward clear weather, even crossing one more states, if necessary.
- Find out local times of total eclipse at your destination. Since the Moon’s umbra moves from west to east across the globe, totality will begin earlier on the clock as you move west, and later on the clock as you move east. Confirm local times at the NASA interactive eclipse page.
- Have a detailed paper travel map showing all the local roads along your route. Don’t rely on GPS in case reception is poor in a particular area. You do NOT want to get lost on Eclipse Day!
- Stay on the 70 mile wide path of totality. This way, whatever happens, at least you will still be somewhere under the Moon’s shadow at eclipse time!
- Stay off the interstates and other freeways. You don’t want to be stuck on a freeway at eclipse time! It’s dangerous (not to mention illegal) to pull over on a freeway to observe the sky. Instead, stick to the state routes and federal highways, and don’t wander off onto unmarked local roads.
- Avoid car convoys with friends. It can slow you down if you’re trying to keep several vehicles within sight. Instead, stay in communication by phone and meet up with your friends at a destination with clear skies.
(Thanks to Michael Zeiler from Great American Eclipse for ideas shared in the above section.)
PLAN OTHER FUN VACATION ACTIVITIES! If you can’t avoid clouds on Eclipse Day, and if the weather gives you a lemon, you can still make lemonade! Pick an eclipse destination with lots of other fun things to do, so that you can have a good time anyway if the clouds let you down! Scout out your destination in advance to find out about the local attractions. Keep some indoor activities in mind, in case of inclement weather.
Look anyway! Even if it’s cloudy or rainy, plan to be outside anyway at eclipse time! You will at least be able to observe the deep darkness as the Moon’s shadow passes above the clouds overhead. If the clouds are thin enough to see the Sun through them, you might be able to enjoy a filtered view of the eclipse. Maybe this will be more irksome for you than anything else, but at least it’s a way to perceive some aspect of the awesome celestial event transpiring unseen overhead!
Whether you see the eclipse or not, after full daylight returns, you’ll have the rest of the day and the evening to do whatever fun things there are to do in your viewing area.
DON’T RUSH HOME! – In the event that MILLIONS of rookie eclipse chasers do travel to see the eclipse, a lot of them will probably want to head home right away after the eclipse ends. But as there might be a big traffic snarl as people trickled toward the eclipse path on the way in, imagine an even bigger clot of traffic as hordes of cars head for the freeways at the same time when it’s over!
You won’t get home any quicker by sitting bumper to bumper on the freeway. Instead, stick around and support the local economy of the place that kindly treated you to the wondrous site of an eclipse. Have lunch or dinner somewhere. Take some time to browse around the town, visiting shops and getting to know the local people. A lot of folks will want to talk about the eclipse, so hours of friendly conversation await after the several-minute spectacle has passed.
Maybe plan your 2017 vacation around taking in the sights of the eclipse state. Visit some parks and museums or whatever there is to see. And if you do need to hurry home for work or school, at least try taking the back roads. Explore the old state and federal highways, and see America, like folks used to do before the freeways bulldozed across the landscape!
HAVE A GREAT ECLIPSE VACATION!