Tag Archives: eclipse-chasing

Chad’s Great American Eclipse Chase: Part 3 – On the Road!

This series details the eclipse-chasing exploits of our President and CEO, Chad Dorsey, as he heads down to Tennessee on a quest for the total solar eclipse. See the whole series.

We’ve been planning, prepping and packing for long enough—time to get on the road! In order to get a jump on the expected traffic and have time to get our bearings on location, we’ve headed out several days in advance of the Big Day. Heading from Acton, MA to Gallatin, TN will take 1,000+ miles over 2+ days, so we settle in for the long haul.

Day 1 — Heading to Hershey’s
Day 1 brings us out of Massachusetts across Connecticut and into Pennsylvania, with a quick pass through part of New York State. The miles are long, and the start is a bit later than desired, but traffic is still light this far from the path of totality and the driving is good. The kids are happy in the back seat, and, thankfully, have managed to become occupied with games, books and activities rather than sibling rivalry. Mommy sadly has to stay back at work, so it’s just the kids and me on the
Kids at Hershey's Chocolate World

The kids, in chocolate heaven…

drive South. Fortunately, my pre-planning extended beyond the moment of totality to include the loooong drive down. We’re no strangers to technology, of course, but have aimed to make this trip be “screen-light,” so we have lots of the old classics at hand and have packed a few surprises as well. Turns out good old Auto Bingo stands the test of time, even with tech-steeped tweens!
Evening of Day 1 ends at an appetizing target—Hershey’s Chocolate World in Hershey, PA. The miles of rolling hills and rural farmland on the way there have all three of us doing double-takes at Google Maps, but a final turn brings the looming roller coasters of Hershey Park and road signs for Chocolate World Way into view, and spirits and appetites both lift immediately. The tour is far from a “real” factory tour (Hershey’s did their last true factory tour in June of 1973), but the highly polished ride is actually pretty cool and does provide a good sense of the full process, wrapped in an ethos fit for a generation raised on a world high-production media and 2-second video edits.
Turns out that the ride through farmland was merited as well, as we learn that Hershey’s is “one of the only” places where chocolate is made with fresh milk. Apparently, at least according to the official story, milk from nearby farms is trucked in daily to the plant. We didn’t see any tanker trucks on our drive, but we happily bought into the idea. Of course, we also bought into a few T-shirts as well—but Dad drew the line at the 2-pound package Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Even though th
Big chocolate bars

Can we, Dad?? Please!!???

e kids’ eyes went almost as big as the dinner-plate-sized chocolate circles in the package they held up, we still have over 500 miles to go, and visions of riding through the coming  8-hour day with a two-pound sugar high in the backseat quash even the most generous inclinations toward road-trip indulgence!
The day ends with happy kids and an exhausted rest. A bit uneasy, though, as much of the day saw us driving through clouds and overcast skies. Our spirits remain hopeful, though, as we head toward the sunny South.

Chad’s Great American Eclipse Chase: Part 2 — Prepping and planning

This series details the eclipse-chasing exploits of our President and CEO, Chad Dorsey, as he heads down to Tennessee on a quest for the total solar eclipse. See the whole series.

Packing for the 2017 Great American Eclipse is amazingly simple, especially considering the laboriousness of prior eclipse-chasing quests. For one, it’s possible to drive there, something generally unthinkable with most eclipses. That is, it’s pretty much never the case except in this particular instance that the word “eclipse” ends up in the same sentence as the words “road trip!” More about that later. Second, it’s in a highly populated area with significant infrastructure. This has notable implications, both potentially good and potentially problematic, as we’ll see.

First, the potentially good. The key rule in chasing any eclipse is very simple: make sure you see it. However, as simple as it is to state, actually adhering to that rule is anything but simple. Because in order to see an eclipse, you need to be able to see the sun, which means there can’t be any clouds. The forecasts for Tennessee look pretty good for this right now, and clear skies seem like a simple thing to ask for in the summer, until you start to think about it a bit more.

For one, even if it’s a generally clear day, the warmth of the air in the summertime leads to convective patterns that cause the buildup of thunderstorms. These thunderstorms occur as the ground has had time to warm the air above it, a process that usually ensures that thunderstorms occur in the early afternoon. Of course, the eclipse in Tennessee will occur at around 2:30 Eastern time—an ideal time for thunderstorms to occur. So, as is always the case in eclipse chasing, we can by no means count on clear skies as a sure thing.

What an eclipse chaser doesn’t want to see on eclipse day.
The thunderstorm, Tez Goodyer. CC BY-ND 2.0. No changes were made.

If thunderstorms do seem ready to occur, or if the sky is overcast or filled with large clouds, die-hard eclipse chasers will shift to their Plan B — scouting out new locations in the day or hours before the eclipse—with a desire to get somewhere, anywhere, under the moon’s shadow where the phenomenon can be fully seen. In this year’s case, doing this is markedly easier than it is for many other eclipses, given that the US highway system provides an ideal means of relocating vehicles and people.

Tennessee totality map

The path of totality will cross large portions of Tennessee accessible by road.

In considering this all, I’ve been keeping a close eye on two things. First, the weather reports. While definitive weather reports aren’t released yet for eclipse day, the historical weather charts and the time of the eclipse make it clear that it’s possible there will be thunderstorms in Tennessee on eclipse day. Second, mobility on the day of an eclipse—this can make the pivotal difference between standing under the marvel of totality and simply looking at clouds in a darkened sky.

Which brings us to the other thing that’s potentially negative. That one is a Catch-22. The roads that bring easy accessibility of the eclipse make it a goal for many Americans to seek out. Because of this, however, many assumptions project that main travel arteries will be filled. That’s a major problem—a large percentage of the millions of people who are expected to be traveling toward the path of totality are expected to be driving on the Interstate system. This holds a real potential for dragging major roads to a crawl even before totality hits. At the point of totality itself, it’s expected that many drivers will stop outright in the middle of the road to get out and stare.

So even those with a very solid location for eclipse viewing need to plan for the worst. As I look over the maps, I’ve begun plotting out possible scenarios on the smaller roads in the region, drawing in the path of totality across our road atlas in pencil and examining side roads, underpasses and bridges. The key consideration is how we might go about both chasing blue skies and avoiding crowds—if conditions make it necessary to head out on the move.