Chad’s Great American Eclipse Chase: Part 4—Prepping 101 – Picking the site

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.

As we prepare to enter Tennessee, it’s worth paying a bit of attention to the other aspects of prepping for a total solar eclipse. The prep really, boils down to three main stages: 1) Picking the site, 2) Prepping for partial phases, and 3) Prioritizing plans for totality. This post will start with the first, and most important, one…

Picking the site

Choosing a location from which to view the eclipse is essentially the biggest part of any eclipse chaser’s job, since probably 90% of the entire viewing experience is pre-determined simply from the selection of the viewing site itself. This is primarily because of the question of weather, the factor on our minds constantly these days, but also because of a few other factors as well.

The question of weather is a big one, and, of course, a completely unpredictable one. Well, almost completely. There is still probability, of course, and there is a very consultable running historical record to lean on when narrowing down on a final decision. Fortunately, eclipse locations are known pretty well in advance (at least somewhere between 83 and 983 years). Also, thanks to the diligent work of Fred Espenak and some others, the US public had the benefit of amazing, publicly published eclipse circulars for decades, and NASA’s eclipse bulletins after that. Fred retired in 2009, depriving the eclipse-chasing world of these marvelous documents, but the eclipse of 2017 pulled him back into the game, and we’ve had the benefit of his (and Jay Anderson’s) extensive and thoughtful information again for this eclipse in particular.

Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Eclipse Bulletin
Fred Espenak and Jay Anderson’s eclipse bulletin, the definitive bible for chasers of the 2017 solar eclipse.

A short dip into this thinking makes it clear that the strategy of finding a good eclipse site begins long before eclipse week. Just reading detailed sentences such as this:

After fording the Ohio River, the umbral shadow enters Kentucky and the flat landscape gradually transforms into small, rolling hills. The instant of greatest eclipse occurs at 18:25:32 UT1 (1:25:32 pm CDT). This is the point where the axis of the lunar shadow passes closest to the centre of Earth. The auspicious event takes place in an unassuming sorghum field about 20 kilometres northwest of Hopkinsville, KY

Written years prior to the eclipse date, this sentence provides a sense of the exactitude to which eclipse chasers are able to target site selection.

In particular, while we can’t know weather ahead of time, the information we do have available is often pretty astounding. Take this other sentence from Fred Espenak’s 2017 page:


Total Solar Eclipse 2017 Road Atlas
Another indispensable guide for chasers of the 2017 solar eclipse.

The weather prospects from Missouri to Illinois are strongly influenced by moisture-laden air from the Gulf of Mexico. The average cloud cover from surface observations hovers around 55%. Heavier cloud cover often comes from convective clouds usually developing in the afternoon. Fortunately the cooling effect of the partial phases before totality may help mitigate afternoon cloud formation.

Of course, with this much information at hand, as well as maps galore, it’s also very possible to drive oneself completely batty. This is where strategy, convenience, and simple luck enter the picture. In our case, the latter two were more of a factor than the first, though judicious pre-planning helped out both of them. Our cabins, right on Fairvue Plantation in Gallatin, TN , are practically an ideal location for viewing the 2017 eclipse. Fortunately, because we had the eclipse in our sights for the past half-decade (see the image clip from my to-do list below), it became a bit easier for my parents to casually target this amazing site while driving on a cross-country trip to Florida a couple years ago.

Club at Fairvue cabins
The most serendipitously comfortable eclipse viewing location in Tennessee?? You won’t find us looking for a better one!

Lucky for us, the club owners’ realization that they had drawn the winning global geography lottery ticket came about three months after we had casually booked two of their four cottages (at the standard rate, under their usual 72-hour cancellation policy). It seems they must have been notified by the local chamber of commerce sometime in between, as they politely called us again a few months later “just to confirm” that we still wanted the cottages for that day at the standard rate. We were happy to verify, of course, that—yes, indeed we did… 🙂

Eclipse planning to-do list
Planning ahead is key to any great eclipse chase—sometimes way ahead!