In the dark about where to buy your retirement relocation or vacation home? Well, if you head to the Southeast in mid-August, we can shed some light on possibilities - and, if you visit one of many master-planned communities in mid-August, you may be literally "in the dark," but in a wonderful way.
On Aug. 21, 2017, the afternoon sky will go from bright to night as a rare total solar eclipse races clear across the nation. Its so-called "path of totality" (some 70 miles wide) will streak at 1,456 mph from the Pacific coast of Oregon to the Atlantic coast of South Carolina in just over three hours (at a speed that would make even Superman a bit envious). It will pass over eastern Tennessee and 42 miles across western North Carolina, then sweep over 252 miles in South Carolina, from the Upstate region to Charleston (and even 12 miles over northern Georgia). Fred Espenak, retired NASA astrophysicist known as Mr. Eclipse, says it will zoom through South Carolina in just 10 minutes, 16 seconds.
The good thing about a total solar eclipse is that, unlike a total lunar eclipse - when the Earth is directly between the sun and moon, blocking the sun's light from hitting the moon - you won't have to stay up too late or get up too early to witness this spectacle.
While the "path of totality" is approximately 70 miles wide, the closer you get to the center of that 70-mile swath, the longer you'll be "in the dark." That doesn't mean that, if you're outside that 70-mile path, you won't be a witness to astronomical history, because regions not directly in the "totality" zone will experience near-totality of 98-99 percent.
The once-in-a-lifetime event (the last total solar eclipse to cross the nation was in 1918) lasts for roughly three hours (1-4 pm EDT), when the eclipse goes from partial to total - and back to partial as the moon slowly slides over the sun. But totality - when all that's visible is the sun's hot-pink corona - lasts a maximum of 2 minutes, 40 seconds, and will occur between 2:20 pm and 2:40 pm, depending on which location in the Palmetto State.
What To Expect
Roughly 10 minutes before and after totality, it will look as though a different sun were illuminating the Earth - colors will get much more rich and saturated, and shadows will become crisp and stark. The folks at Old Farmer's Almanac say that, "at 1 minute before and after totality, all white and light-color ground surfaces underfoot (sidewalks, sand, the like) suddenly exhibit shimmering shadow bands everywhere. (Think of black lines on the bottom of a swimming pool that appear to wiggle.)"
And NASA scientists say that, at the onset of totality, the moon's valleys will play a key role in another visual effect - the sun's crescent will wane and bright spots called "Bailey's Beads" will project through the valleys. In fact, the "bead" is so bright, NASA says, that it's also called the "diamond ring effect." At the peak of totality, the entire corona will be visible, there will be a reddish horizon, and the sky will get as dark as midnight (stars may even be visible). As the sun comes out of totality, the "diamond ring" and "Bailey's beads" appear in reverse.
Also, researchers at UC Berkeley say that, as the sky darkens, "and the temperature drops, birds reportedly stop singing, spiders may tear down their webs, and gray squirrels will retreat to their dens, among other observed behaviors."
"You MUST use safe, CERTIFIED eye protection to view the eclipse!"
That warning, from NASA, applies to viewing the partial eclipse, and is repeated on every website devoted to eclipse viewing. And "eye protection" does NOT mean regular sunglasses. Even polarized sunglasses won't protect the eyes from rays that will permanently burn retinas. The good news is that the special glasses are either cheap (between $2 and $5) or free, and widely available from stores and event organizers throughout the Southeast. (And yes, you can wear them over regular eyeglasses!) Be sure the special glasses say they meet requirements specified by ISO 12312-2:2015.
And there's more good news: the special glasses are NOT needed to view totality - but they do need to be worn during the partial eclipse phases.
Capturing the Eclipse
Viewing a total solar eclipse is one thing; preserving it is another. Many people will no doubt try to capture the image with their cameras or smartphones.
Espenak, the retired NASA astrophysicist, says taking photos with either device is possible - with a few conditions. Both are like the human eye - they can be ruined by "looking" at the sun, even during partiality. He suggests camera owners should purchase a solar filter to cover the telephoto lens (and view-finder, if not a DSLR camera). The filter would not be needed during totality - in fact, Espenak says keeping the filter on would reduce the quality of images taken.
Photos taken with smartphones "can be very exciting because the field-of-view is large enough that you can compose the shot with your friends and local scenery in the shot, at the same time a recognizable, eclipsed sun during totality hangs dramatically in the darkened sky." If wanting to capture just the eclipse during totality, Espenak advises against using the phone the camera's digital zoom, because the pixel count is unchanged, meaning there's a greater risk of fuzziness.
Be Sure to Plan Ahead
Getting to the "path of totality" - and especially the center of that path - may prove to be a challenge. NASA and various astrological groups have been spreading the word since the first of the year, and communities in the heart of the swath have been planning events for months.
NASA's coordinator for education and outreach programs, Alex Young, says that, although about 12 million people live within the narrow band of totality, approximately 25 million reside within a day's drive of it, "so we’re really in uncharted territory trying to estimate how many people are going to try to watch this event."
The National Park Service notes that "People have been planning where they want to view the eclipse years in advance." As a result, most camp sites and park lodging have been reserved. And some parks within or near the path of totality will close once parking lots are full.
And the North Carolina Department of Transportation cautions "There could be significant traffic impacts from congestion before and after the event," and says it "will suspend most road construction projects and lane closures beginning Aug. 19 through Aug. 22." It also offers other cautionary notes:
- Watch out for pedestrians on secondary roads and city streets. People may be randomly parking and walking along roadsides as they search for a viewing spot.
- Watch out for distracted drivers around you.
- Do not try to view the eclipse or take photographs while driving.
- Turn on your headlights if driving during the eclipse. Even in partial totality, it will become dark outside.
- Do not stop along the interstate or park on the shoulder to view the eclipse. Exit the roadway and park in a safe spot.
- Do not wear eclipse glasses while driving
Most people viewing the eclipse will try to depart for home immediately afterward, much like the end of a sporting event or concert.
Another planning factor is the weather. The National Weather Service says "An important consideration is the possibility of clouds... and thunderstorms (which) are common elements of the early to late afternoons, especially over the Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills." The NWS adds that there's a 30-50% chance of clouds "at 2:38pm on August 21," as well as "an approximately 10% chance of rain at that particular time at any location in the area." The Old Farmer's Almanac says to expect "scattered thunderstorms and warm" temperatures in the Carolinas.
Meteorologist Jay Anderson, on his website eclipsophile.com, says, "If the weather forecast the day before is not favorable, strongly consider driving to an adjacent state within the path with a better forecast."
Best Viewing Locations
Meanwhile, so many cities and towns have scheduled so many eclipse-viewing events that, odds are, you'll find a place to be "in the dark" for the entire event. And some master-planned communities have scheduled on-site events, which means you wouldn't even have to leave the possible home of your dreams to fulfill the dream of viewing a total solar eclipse. Here's a look at just some scheduled events - note that, unless otherwise stated, there's still time to make a reservation, if needed.
You'll find several events in Tellico Plains, and close to 100 events in Nashville. For details, visit https://www.facebook.com/pg/TotalityinTellico/events/?ref=page_internal and http://www.visitmusiccity.com/eclipse/watch
Although the Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina border, and either of them are completely in the "path of totality" or will experience 99.96 percent of it, park rangers say optimal viewing locations are just about booked. The park is posting almost daily updates on its website, https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm
The path of totality first touches extreme western North Carolina at 2:33 pm. (EDT), and crosses into South Carolina at 2:48 pm. (EDT). (Note that the next time a total eclipse will be seen in North Carolina will be May 11, 2078.)
Note that, while the southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway - from around Looking Glass Rock overlook (Milepost 417) to the end at Cherokee - will be in the "path of totality" for up to 60 seconds around 2:36 pm, its popularity may make it inaccessible. Mark Fine, of the website www.romanticasheville.com, writes, "While there are numerous overlooks to stop, most will fill up quickly. Popular hiking spots to summits like Black Balsam, Devil's Courthouse and Waterrock Knob will be packed. So go early to claim a parking spot! Waterrock Knob has the largest parking area with prime viewing from the lot with picnic area and restrooms." Also, Parkway rangers may consider closing a stretch if too many vehicles are blocking the scenic road. As the date gets closer, visit this website for specifics: https://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/roadclosures.htm
However, there's another option if you're an outdoors fan...
The Nantahala Outdoor Center, near Bryson City, NC, has put together its Great American Solar Eclipse Adventures, which includes everything from zip lining to relaxing rafting. There's whitewater rafting along the Chattooga River, rafting down the Nantahala River, and flatwater paddling along Fontana Lake. Prices range from $40 to $130 per person. Although some events are filling up, there are a number of others to choose from; just visit www.noc.com.
Cities and towns that will experience 100% totality are Andrews, Brevard, Bryson City, Cashiers, Cherokee, Cullowhee, Dillsboro, Franklin, Hayesville, Highlands, Hiwassee Lake, Santeetlah Lake, Murphy, Robbinsville, Rosman, Sylva, and Webster - in North Carolina.
And virtually every one of those cities and towns has special viewing events planned. In or near those towns are many communities SoutheastDiscovery.com features on our site - Balsam Mountain Preserve in Sylva, Bear Lake Reserve in Tuckaseegee, Blacksmith Run and Champion Hills in Hendersonville, Maggie Valley Club in Maggie Valley, the Preserve at Rock Creek in Sapphire, Rockledge in Bryson City, Sundrops on Caney Fork in Cullowhee, and Sunset Falls at Bald Creek near Waynesville.
To take a look at what viewing opportunities will exist when you visit the above master-planned communities, all of these websites would be a great starting point:
For more specific information on what events are planned in western North Carolina, visit:
- https://www.discoverjacksonnc.com/total-solar-eclipse/ to find events in Cashiers, Dillsboro and Sylva.
- http://www.greatsmokies.com/eclipse to locate events in other cities and towns.
As we mentioned earlier, the solar eclipse's "path of totality" will race across the entire state of South Carolina, from the Upstate region in the northwest part of the state, through Columbia, the state's capitol, and exit over the Charleston region.
In the Upstate region are the Cliffs Communities - six very distinctive master-planned developments (a 7th is in North Carolina). And several are planning their own eclipse events.
- At 2:36 pm, 100% totality will pass over The Cliffs at Keowee Falls and will last for 2 minutes, 36 seconds. The clubhouse and golf course will be the viewing spot during its "Solar Eclipse of the Heart," and official glasses, appetizers and cocktails will be available to members and guests ($15 per person).
- One minute later - 2:37 pm - the total eclipse will be over Cliffs at Mountain Park near Travelers Rest, and will last 1 minute, 50 seconds. Its "Total Eclipse of the South" will include lunch, drinks, music and proper viewing glasses, for $24 per person.
- Glassy Mountain, a Cliffs community, the only mountain community located in South Carolina - will witness the eclipse at roughly the same time as Mountain Park - 2:37 pm - and the same duration - 1 minute, 50 seconds. Certified solar eclipse viewing glasses will be provided to members and guests, and lunch and a wine tasting are planned ($24 per person).
Potentially the most crowded viewing area in the state will be Clemson University, which will be in the center of the path of totality, which passes at 2:37 p.m. and ironically lasts for 2 minutes, 37 seconds. Not only will area residents and visitors be there, but Clemson advises that "Most local media will be represented and also planning to attend," such as "The Weather Channel, CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, NPR, The Washington Post and Scientific American, among others." Although campus officials say there's no need for tickets, the university is charging $50 to park in a "tailgazing" parking area; all other parking in several lots is free. The university also says it will have 50,000 pairs of solar glasses available at no cost. For more information, visit http://newsstand.clemson.edu/mediarelations/when-where-and-how-to-watch-the-total-solar-eclipse-at-clemson-university/
The "Renaissance City" of Greenville (totality starts at 2:28 pm and lasts 2 minutes, 8 seconds) has a long list of events scheduled ranging from extravagant parties at several downtown venues to the Children's Museum of the Upstate, but almost all are sold out or close to capacity. The Children's museum is a ticketed event, but the tickets will only be available on Aug. 21. To view all event listings, visit http://www.visitgreenvillesc.com/eclipse/
Close to Greenville and Travelers Rest is Furman University, which will open Paladin Stadium to eclipse spectators and providing approved glasses. There will also be live music and concessions. For more details, visit http://news.furman.edu/features/eclipse-at-furman/
In and near the coastal city of Charleston, more than 100 events are planned, ranging from "Eclipse on a Warship" - on the aircraft carrier-now-warship museum USS Yorktown - to "Total Eclipse of the Art" at the Gibbes Museum of Art. However, the larger events are already sold out, but there's bound to be room at a number of smaller events. The more adventurous might consider a unique way to view the eclipse - by paddle boat, kayak or on a small island. Several tour companies and outdoor shops have eclipse-only packages, though the "easier" ones are selling out fast. To get a complete look at what's planned, visit http://www.charlestoncvb.com/events/category/eclipse~16/
Finally, you can "have a ball" (literally) while "viewing a ball" (the moon and sun) by attending a Minor league Baseball game. The solar eclipse's "path of totality" first reaches Nashville, Tennessee, home of the Nashville Sounds, at 1:29 pm (CDT). First Tennessee Park will open at 10:30 am (CST) for a special eclipse viewing event that will include music and hands-on activities. The field's lights will come on at 1:25 pm, then observers will need to leave by 2 pm; the Sounds will take on the Iowa Cubs at 4:05 pm. Choose tickets to either the eclipse event or the game, visit www.nashvillesounds.com.
- The Greenville, SC Drive will host the West Virginia Power at Fluor Field at 1 pm. But the game will stop for totality (2:38 pm EDT) and resume when totality ends. Eclipse glasses will be provided to everyone entering the park. For more info, visit https://www.milb.com/drive/news/fluor-field-hosts-eclipse-day-game-on-august-21st/c-244537736/t-196097264.
- The Columbia, SC Fireflies will play the Rome (Georgia) Braves at 1:05 pm at the new Spirit Communications Park; all fans will receive special eclipse glasses, and play will be halted during totality (which they're calling "Total Eclipse of the Park"). For tickers or more information, visit https://www.milb.com/fireflies/news/upcoming-promotions-at-spirit-communications-park/c-241981664/t-196097278.
- Gates will open at 1 pm at Joseph P. Riley Park, home to the Charleston SC RiverDogs, who will play the Augusta GreenJackets, but not until 4:05 pm. Instead, fans will receive officials eclipse glasses to enjoy watching the celestial event. For game tickets or more info, visit http://www.milb.com/index.jsp?sid=t233.
NASA has some guidelines on how to safely watch the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. The only safe way to look directly at the partially eclipsed or un-eclipsed sun are with special-purpose solar filters otherwise called "eclipse glasses" or hand held solar viewers. Ordinary glasses are not safe for looking at the sun. There are four manufacturers that have certified their eclipse glasses and meet international standards: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17. The solar filter should still be inspected prior to use. If scratched or damaged in any way, the glasses should be discarded. Children should be supervised when using social filters. NASA recommends users must stand still and cover their eyes with their eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the sun. Then, they should turn away from the sun and remove the filter, so they don't remove the filter while still looking at the sun. The sun or eclipse should not be viewed with an unfiltered camera, telescope, binocular or telescope, for fear of serious injury to the eyes. NASA has stated if viewers are within "the path of totality" which stretches from Oregon to South Carolina, the solar filter should only be removed when the moon completely covers the sun and it gets very dark. As the sun appears again, the solar viewer should be put on again to look at the rest of the eclipse.