Category: Community Eclipse Planning

Whether you are chasing an eclipse, or are a community within the path of totality, eclipse planning is required.  Communities within the path of totality need to prepare for an influx of travelers coming to experience the total solar eclipse.

17 Mar 2022
White Paper 2nd Edn cover

OUT NOW – 2nd Edition of White Paper on Community Eclipse Planning

White Paper 2nd Edn cover
White Paper on Community Eclipse Planning (2nd Edn), is available to download freely from my website.  This version is focused on those planning for TSE 2024, and the annular in 2023.

 

We are now almost two years out from the biggest event in North and Central America for 2024 – the next total solar eclipse. This eclipse will be even bigger than the 2017 eclipse — I know this is very hard to imagine. The path of totality is much wider crossing over higher-population areas, and with FOMO from 2017, it really will be the event of the decade.

This time, over 3,000 communities are located within the path of totality in the US alone. This equates to tens of thousands of people who will be directly involved with eclipse planning over the coming two years.

Planning for something as major as a total eclipse needs to happen across organizations, and with local/state/national coordination. The American Astronomical Society (AAS) Solar Eclipse Task Force is doing a great job at coordinating efforts, and I enjoy being part of this team of highly motivated people who are guiding the way in preparations for 2024.  Our next virtual planning workshop is only a few weeks away and is timed to coincide with the two-year countdown (and you can register here).

Every community within the path of totality will initially struggle to get started with their planning. Usually, they wait for direction from above and then realize over time that only they can figure out the eclipse planning strategy for their own community.

This is exactly where my White Paper on Community Eclipse Planning comes in.

Having been involved in community eclipse planning for a decade, I see this gap time and time again and have made it my mission to support communities to develop their strategic approach to planning for the eclipse. No one will do it for you. **SPOILER ALERT** For maximum benefit, the eclipse should not be seen as a one-off event, but as a focal point for your community development plans.  

The first White Paper on Community Eclipse Planning was released in 2015, with the purpose of helping communities across the path of totality in the US to prepare for the ‘Great American Eclipse’ in 2017.  Since then, I have used the thousands of hours of my free zoom consultations, repeated sessions, in-community visits, post-eclipse sessions with coordinators and Mayors, to effectively capture the key lessons from those coordinating the eclipse planning efforts in their communities. I use an evidence-based approach and do this voluntarily in my own time, so it is a slow process.

And so, after years of work behind the scenes sorting through all this material, the 2nd Edition is now ready for distribution.

This document is more detailed and focused on developing a community-based eclipse strategy for maximum benefit. Like last time, this document is free and can be found at the bottom of this page on my website.  The document is large, so it is best shared via a link to my webpage rather than as an attachment.

This 2nd edition will have multiple versions tailored for each specific eclipse, up to 2030.  An earlier version for the 2023 total eclipse visible from Australia/Timor-Leste was circulated to those involved last year.  The version now available to download from my website is suitable for those planning for the total solar eclipse of 2024 in the US, Mexico and Canada — while also including details of the 2023 annular eclipse.

I am no longer in a position to offer free individual consults to communities. However, I will be offering planning masterclasses for eclipse coordinators, where each month a maximum of six coordinators can come together and we will deep-dive into various topics. I will only be making announcements about these to those communities who complete the form on my website, and the first one will be in May.

Remember – no community volunteers to be within the path of totality;  the Universe chooses YOU!  Use this opportunity wisely.

 

30 Mar 2021

Community Eclipse Planning – Zoom workshop 9-10 April 2021

 

I’ve been chasing total eclipses for over 20 years.  While waiting for each chase, I usually channel my energies into community eclipse planning and working behind-the-scenes on projects for future eclipses.

Despite living in Australia, I am a member of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) Solar Eclipse Task Force, which is the key supporting organization for solar eclipse planning across the US.  We have been meeting via Zoom regularly and are working towards future eclipse coordination in the US.

Plans are now ramping up in preparation for the next total solar eclipse visible across the US, including Mexico and Canada, on 8 April 2024.   If you thought the ‘Great American Eclipse of 2017’ was huge, then be aware that was just the warm-up.  With so much more awareness, the ‘Greater North American Total Solar Eclipse of 2024’ is going to be huge!   And an added bonus – an annular (‘ring’) solar eclipse will be visible across the US and parts of Mexico the year before, on 14 October 2023.   Make sure to mark these dates in your diary.

This means community eclipse planning needs to start NOW for all communities who find themselves in the Moon’s shadow in 2023 and/or 2024.

To help you with this, the AAS Solar Eclipse Task Force is hosting the next planning weekend workshop via Zoom on Friday and Saturday, 9 and 10 April 2021, to coincide with the three-year countdown to the total eclipse in 2024.   This online workshop will be of interest to anyone who needs to be involved in preparations for these two solar eclipses, and there is a great line-up of experienced presenters who are keen to support you.  Day 1 of the workshop will provide a detailed overview of these solar eclipse opportunities across the US, and guidance about eye safety.  Day 2 of the workshop is dedicated to eclipse planning.  I will be delivering a presentation on community eclipse planning on Day 2, and then taking part in a panel discussion on the topic that will also feature others who will be sharing their planning experience from 2017.

There is a low fee of $20 to take part in the weekend workshop. Please CLICK HERE for more detailed information, any questions, and to register your attendance.  If you cannot attend this workshop, then make sure to still link in with the Eclipse Task Force to be kept informed of future planning workshops.

I’ve been guiding and researching community eclipse planning for many years now, and my top three nuggets of advice based upon my own direct experience and the many, many hindsight interviews I have done after each eclipse:   start planning early;  focus on the community; and consult with eclipse experts.   This workshop will help you get started – you will be warmly welcomed by the Solar Eclipse Task Force, and you will have an opportunity to connect with others who are also starting out with their planning too.   I look forward to seeing you there.

13 Mar 2017

Changing plans – lessons from Wile E. Coyote

intro

I’ve been feeling a lot like Wile E. Coyote lately. Clever and creative in his planning to achieve his one goal – to get the bird – his plans would backfire spectacularly in the execution. I’d like to think my plans are a little sounder than Wile E’s plans. Unlike him, however, I’m facing one key obstacle that is stopping me from achieving my goal. My immigration visa is needed before I can get to the US, and it seems just out of my reach.

The need to immigrate

Australians and British citizens are able to visit the US for three months easily with a visa waiver. However, to work in the US you require a visa, and usually an employer willing to sponsor you. As ‘Eclipse Planning Consultant’ is not really a job that has an employer, I went down the route of immigration as an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability”.   That is, I had to be a highly educated professional (three degrees – check!); an internationally recognized expert (author, researcher, and pretty much one of the only eclipse consultants around, who wrote the only guidance document on how to plan – check!); and to be engaging in activities that are of national interest (total solar eclipse for the first time in the US in almost 40 years, visible from 14 states with a partial across the whole continent – check!).

card genius

After submitting a two-volume opus of my life’s work as evidence, twice, I was judged to have met these criteria back in November. And what a happy day that was!

I was informed that there was a process that would take an additional two months or so. There remained additional steps in the meantime that I undertook as quickly as possible – police checks from two countries, listings of every single place I lived since the age of 18 years, and disclosures of all sorts of other personal information that are then used to judge you in ways you can’t really understand. More documents, submissions and explanations, along with payments at every step along the way.  I am THIS close.

Things you can control… 

In January I went ahead with an Expressions of Interest for my path of totality planning tour, which helped to determine what communities on the ground were looking for. From this, I identified:

  • 31 communities expressed strong interest in being part of my tour
  • 90 days of activities were requested
  • 10 states were represented across the path of totality

I then started to make more detailed plans. However, as time was marching on my estimated leaving date was fast approaching – still with no visa interview date.

… versus things you cannot control 

Then came some sudden changes to US immigration rules. Although my visa application is not directly affected, the indirect effect is that there are more demands on the work involved at the National Visa Centre, where my application still awaits, sitting on a desk somewhere and waiting for a final confirmation before it can be sent to London for the last remaining interviews.

In early February I made the decision to delay the start of the tour for a further month to allow for more time.  This took a bit of revision, and compromised some of my activities, but I knew it would still be possible.  

Unfortunately, further delays were announced last week now make my tour plans unviable. I have already requested permission to expedite my visa processing on grounds of national interest, and this has initially been unsuccessful.   I am trying repeatedly, and will continue to do so, until I have my visa in my hand.

What this means in practice

After two years of planning, I have had to let my path of totality planning tour go.  Anyone who knows me personally knows how long I have been talking and planning this, and how difficult this decision has been.  Much like Wile E. Coyote does, I have gone back to the drawing board to come up with a new creative way of meeting needs on the ground in a much-reduced time frame.

I am frustrated that I have had to turn down requests to participate in community events, eclipse planning conferences, astronomy events, documentaries and other media. I have had to instead direct my energies towards overcoming the many visa hurdles by collating and documenting detailed evidence, completing forms, chasing up requests. In my years of being involved in eclipse planning, I have never faced barriers quite like this.

Despite this, I have been supporting many communities from afar as best I can, and I am still planning to be available for in-community support along the path of totality.

Although it is likely that I will arrive in May, currently I am not able to agree any events or activities for that month.   I am, however, now confirming activities for June and beyond.  The biggest changes:

  • I will no longer be doing a LINEAR tour of the path of totality
  • I will no longer be visiting all states within the path
  • I will no longer be based in a fifth wheel camper, and instead will use hotels as my base

There are a few benefits from my new revised plan. I can be more flexible with my schedule, as I do not have to travel in a linear fashion. I also have been able to review my fee structure too.  So if you are interested in bringing me to your community, or to have me as part of your event or conference or as a speaker, then get in touch.

When I eventually do make it to the US, I will do all I can to share my experiences, knowledge, research and expertise. My window to do this will be much smaller than I ever intended, however I am keen to reach as many people as possible.

I have seen 10 total solar eclipses all around the world, in my 18 year chasing career. Every one is special and unique, but there is nothing like experiencing totality within your home community. This happened for me in 2012, and is the reason why I am so passionate about helping communities prepare. I’m not giving up.

catches at end

How can you help?

Many have already got in touch with offers of support, and some of you have already put something in writing to help expedite my case. If you are in a position where you feel I have already benefited you, or am about to benefit you, then please do consider putting something in an email to me that highlights this that I can send on. It can be short, like a testimonial, or longer – whatever you wish to write.  These comments will be passed on in my requests to expedite my visa, and every little bit helps.

In the end, Wile E. Coyote did indeed catch the road runner.  He is a lesson in perseverance and creativity.  And I know my visa will come through too – it just can’t come soon enough.

05 Jan 2017

The Path of Totality Tour – Expressions of Interest

press-release

 

 

It’s official.  I am now taking ‘Expressions of Interest‘ from communities that would like to be included in my Being in the Shadow Path of Totality Tour.

The tour is expected to commence in April in South Carolina, and end in July in Oregon – final dates will be confirmed at the end of January.  At the moment, I am still awaiting the final stages of my US visa process, and therefore I cannot confirm any dates.  However, I can now start planning. Woohoo!!

We will be traveling in a fifth wheel camper, and staying at RV sites within each community in order to keep costs to a minimum whilst ensuring flexibility and a mobile workspace.  From coast to coast, across the US, helping to prepare for the eclipse.

I will be ensuring the tour is high profile, and will engage in extensive media throughout, ensuring that all of the communities involved in the tour will greatly benefit from the extensive media exposure.  The results of this can be considerable.  For example, the PR value of the media from the 62 international media outlets that were reporting from the Faroe Islands in 2015, where I was the Eclipse Planning Consultant, was equivalent to US$22 million.  Media interest across the US and the world is going to be considerably greater for the 2017 total eclipse.  That’s big buckaroos.

I will, of course, be unable to visit each of the 1,000+ communities that are along the path of totality. Instead I will have to prioritise those communities that are keen to host me – that is, those that complete this form to let me know what their needs and wishes are.

I am recommending a stay of five days in each community to ensure that I can make a significant difference for each of the communities I visit.

Once you link to the form, you will see that each page has the range of events that I can offer, from planning consulting, workshops, community engagement, stakeholder engagement, book launch activities, public lectures etc.  If you are an eclipse coordinator, please complete the form, ticking those events of interest.

I will then be able to collate this information, start plotting and planning a rough tour outline, and will then get back to you regarding an estimated cost based on your preferences, an estimated time frame, and more detailed information about confirming plans.  It’s simple.

 

tour-poster

 

To make sure your region is included, complete the ‘Expressions of Interest’ Form by 27 January AT THE LATEST.  I’ve been talking about doing this tour for years, literally, and I can’t believe we have now reached the time when I am about to start planning.  Let me help to make it awesome for your community.

06 Dec 2016

How many visitors will come for the eclipse?

How many people will come for the eclipse?
Everyone will be looking up on eclipse day.

As an expert eclipse planning consultant, the most common question I get asked is this – how many people will come to our region for the eclipse?

This is a question that is very difficult to predict with any accuracy. It depends on so many factors – including location along the path, proximity to the center-line, climate statistics and weather on the day, road networks, general appeal, proximity to other tourist attractions, and population of the region.

However, this is the question that communities do need an answer to. Without any estimates, effective planning is difficult. So, what have other regions done in the past when estimating crowds, and how accurate were these estimates?

Accuracy of past estimates

In 2012, initial estimates for the Far North Queensland total eclipse was 30,000, based upon the crowd attending a previous total eclipse in South Australia in 2002.  In the end, 60,000 people descended on the area specifically for the eclipse, staying an average of four days. Accommodation in the region was at full capacity, and the eclipse brought in an estimated Aus $130 million for the local economy. The eclipse was indeed much larger than everyone had imagined.

In 2015, we estimated 5,000 eclipse tourists would come to the Faroe Islands, taking into account remoteness and poor weather predictions. Even this number, however, required creative planning, in a country with only 800 hotel beds. In the end, 11,400 eclipse tourists came, staying for an average five days, generating US $9.5 million for the local economy. Again, the eclipse was much larger than expected – despite the poorer weather prospects.

Even going further back than these recent examples, people have reported that regions tend to underestimate visitor numbers. Every time a total solar eclipse occurs, new generations of eclipse chasers are born, eager to repeat the experience.   Eclipse chaser numbers will only keep growing.

Features that make the 2017 eclipse especially appealing

In my 17 years of eclipse chasing, I have had to travel to some very remote, unusual locations in order to get to the path of totality.  However, the path of totality for 2017 is easily accessible, with good weather prospects, occurring in a country of great appeal, with many unique opportunities for tourism across the path.

The US is the second most visited country in the world, with 77.5 million visitors in 2015. August is already one of the most popular months for visitors. There is no doubt that the interest in this eclipse will be unprecedented.

Michael Zeiler at Great American Eclipse has calculated that 12.2 million people live within the path of totality. 88 million Americans live within 200 miles of the path of totality – which is easy driving distance. It really is unknown how many millions will travel on the day.

Population estimates along the path of totality
Population estimates along the path of totality. (c) Michael Zeiler, www.GreatAmericanEclipse.com

The western sections of the path are most popular amongst eclipse chasers as the weather outlook is more optimistic – yet it is much more sparsely populated. The more densely populated eastern half of the path may have the largest crowds, but generally there are lower chances of clear skies. Ultimately, many believe that this will balance things out, and there is plenty of room along the path for everyone.

How to come up with estimated numbers for your region

I have now talked through this issue with many communities along the path. The key people involved in these discussions are the tourism representatives, local council, and emergency planning chiefs. The aim is to identify a way to calculate total visitor numbers – keeping in mind that these numbers are estimates. Here is a very simple overview.

Largest community event multiplied by the ‘x factor’

The key question is – what is the largest event that is currently hosted in your region? It may be the State Fair, New Years Eve celebrations, 4th of July celebrations, or a music festival.  This largest event shows the draw of your community. Essentially, these attendees will be the same people who will be coming to celebrate the eclipse. But a few more things need to be considered – additional family and friends, those who have sought out the region specifically and have booked; and the many more who will drive in on the day.

So, the advice is to consider your largest crowd, and then multiply this with ‘the x factor’ – this could mean multiplying by 1.5, or 2, or 2.5. This all depends upon the many factors mentioned above, and really does need to be personalized to your community. I told you eclipse planning had many unknowns.

Calculate your maximum capacity

I think it’s important that all communities consider this – What is the maximum number of people who can be safely catered for, and how can you ensure that this is managed. And what is the plan if this is exceeded.

Knowing this figure gives a feeling of control, rather than things being completely unknown, and plans can be made. This can be considered roughly by looking at the following:

  • The population of the region – these people are most likely to remain in the community to view the eclipse;
  • Friends and family of the population – if you live in the path, you will become immensely popular with anyone living outside of the path, who will want to stay with you. You can account for this by perhaps multiplying the population by 2, or else calculating an extra two people per household
  • Total formal accommodation capacity (including hotels, B&B’s, official camping and RV sites)
  • Additional soft capacity (including temporary arrangements such as additional camping grounds, overnight car park facilities, fields that may be used etc)
  • The numbers in tour groups coming in but who may be staying elsewhere

Then consider those additional unknowns, who will be driving in for the day. What is an acceptable level of unknown visitors who can be accommodated for on the day, when you are already at full capacity, with regards to parking and facilities?

Having an estimate is important for planning. I have been encouraging many regions to record how they have calculated their estimates, so that these can be compared to final visitor numbers, allowing some way of working out how accurate numbers could be predicted. This will help to plan for future eclipses – including the next one across the US in 2024.

Eclipse ‘hotspots’

Several locations along the path may be potential ‘hotspots’ for eclipse visitors to congregate. These are those with the best chances of good weather; those with outstanding nature opportunities, and those with something of unique interest.

For example, Grand Teton National Park is one of the few parks along the path. This region is already a high demand tourist area, already at full capacity during August over the last few years. Many people consider this to be the ‘ultimate’ eclipse viewing destination (I’m one of them – my tour is based in Teton village). But the region clearly will not be able to cope unless special considerations are made.

Similarly, Carbondale in Illinois may be another ‘hotspot’, as they are in the unique position of being at the ‘eclipse crossroads’ for the 2017 path and also the 2024 path. Also, Madras in Oregon was identified as having one of the best chances of clear skies, and was one of the first regions to reach full capacity.

If you are in an eclipse ‘hotspot’, then it is essential to develop action plans to avoid over-capacity. Worth exploring are options to control access, and the ability to pre-register interest, or having a lottery system for different venues. Also to be considered are access to food and toilets. It is a far less stressful experience for everybody if people know upfront that they can or cannot get to their preferred viewing location, rather than have to be turned away on the day. Preventing problems from occurring in the first place is in everyone’s interest.

Conclusion

Eclipse planning may be unique and have quite a few unknowns. All but the smallest communities have the expertise to plan a great eclipse experience and associated events for their community and visitors. All you need to do is remember the following: 

Eclipse planning approach - do what you already do, then scale up
There are many unknowns in eclipse planning, but you’ve got this!

If you are involved in planning for your community and want to talk through the issue of estimating numbers, or your eclipse plans in general, then feel free to get in touch for a free Zoom consultation.

30 Nov 2016

Why I help communities prepare for the total solar eclipse

Lecture to the crowds in Eidi on eclipse morning.
Addressing the Eidi community and my tour group with a pre-eclipse briefing on eclipse morning, 2015. (c) Independent Traveller, 2015

 

When a total eclipse occurs in your community, residents and visitors alike will remember it for a lifetime. Having been involved in community eclipse planning for several years now, both within my own community in Australia in 2012, and then as the Eclipse Consultant in the Faroe Islands for 2015, I know from personal experience that it is a challenging, exciting and hugely rewarding role.

A total solar eclipse usually occurs in regions that have no living memory of such an event. Even those who are put in charge of planning for it have never experienced the phenomenon. The community, therefore, will not know what an eclipse is, what it means for them and what they should do to prepare. Having chased eclipses around the world for 18 years, I have seen many regions who have been ill-prepared, or that have failed to take advantage of this unique opportunity to benefit their region. So many times I have heard the comment “we had no idea it was going to be so big!”

From eclipse chaser to eclipse planner 

The turning point for me was the total eclipse of 2012, when the path of totality occurred in my home region of North Queensland, Australia. For the first time, I was a local within the community in the lead up to the eclipse. This gave me unique insights into the local perspective – and highlighted that key eclipse messages were not getting through. I spoke to many people who did not see that the eclipse was relevant to them, with some stating they were planning to leave the region to ‘avoid the chaos’.

I then went to work doing as much outreach as I could to ensure that my fellow locals knew the eclipse wasn’t just for tourists or scientists – but rather a special event for the whole community. And boy was it special! There is nothing like seeing a total eclipse in your home community.

I was already interviewing locals before and after the eclipse for my own eclipse research. I included eclipse planners in these interviews to capture the planning process. I learned some important things about eclipse planning – what worked, what didn’t, what was overlooked, and what would be done differently. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.

Applying lessons from research and practice

I then put these hindsight lessons into practice, and started visiting and engaging with the key organisations in the Faroe Islands in preparation for the March 2015 total eclipse. I felt very privileged to be a part of that wonderful, small, and friendly community as their Eclipse Planning Consultant. I visited several times – two years before the eclipse, and again the year before, and finally relocating there in the weeks before the eclipse. My role was to help with the final stages of planning, prepare materials, and to engage with stakeholders and the community through events and the local media. I also helped coordinate what was to become the media frenzy that occurs in the days before every eclipse.   The wonderful Faroese were ready and waiting for the eclipse and embraced it – and me – with open arms.  The eclipse was wonderful – even though it was cloudy. I will always feel a part of the community there, and still feel so privileged that I could help.

Dr Kate Russo, eclipse planning
Counting down to eclipse day within the community, with Torstein Kristiansen, local eclipse coordinator. (c) Torstein Kristiansen, 2015

Lessons from the past and guidance for the future

Following the eclipse, I again interviewed those involved in planning to gain further insights into the planning process. I then spent months analyzing the planning process based upon these many interviews from 2012, and 2015. I extracted the key aspects, and identified some important strategies. And having had experience of this within my psychology career, I published these important processes as a White Paper.

This White Paper on Community Eclipse Planning is the result of what I have learned through all of these activities over the years. I have shared this freely with those who are lucky enough to be living within a future path of totality. I am also delighted that most of the communities across the U.S. have been using my White Paper as a starting point to help their community prepare for this wonderful event. It is the only guidance there is on how to prepare a community for a total solar eclipse. To help get eclipse coordinators started, I have been doing free consultations to help translate general principals to each unique community. I will also be visiting communities during my four month path of totality tour, and engaging in speaking, consulting and media activities.

Leveraging the opportunity – tourism and economic benefits

There is no doubt that huge economic benefits occur for communities within the path of totality.   For the 2012 total eclipse in Far North Queensland, the economic impact of the eclipse was calculated to be US$97 million. For 2015 in the Faroe Islands, 62 international media representatives catapulted the Faroe Islands into the spotlight, generating an estimated US$22 million in PR value alone.  It is easy to underestimate how big the total eclipse of 2017 will be – especially as there has not been one on the U.S. mainland in 39 years. The total eclipse of 2017 will be big, you will need resources to plan, and you will wish you had started it all much earlier than you did.   A little investment in planning will certainly go a long way.

Don’t be left in the dark. Be prepared for the darkness on eclipse day on August 21, 2017.

Download my White Paper on Community Eclipse Planning. If you are involved in preparing your community for the eclipse, then get in touch for your free consult.

21 Aug 2015

Eclipse chasers and Countdowns

Astronomical Clock, PragueAs an eclipse chaser, I plan ahead and know where I will be on specific dates a few years in advance. This means that I am always on ‘eclipse countdown’, using eclipse maps as a scaffold for my future. This may seem rather geeky, but I think it’s rather cool and it also is quite typical eclipse chaser behavior.

Today just happens to be a significant eclipse countdown day. In exactly two years time, on August 21 2017, the path of totality will start in the North Pacific Ocean, make landfall on the Oregon coast, cross the whole of the US to South Carolina and then continue on into the North Atlantic. This is a significant eclipse as it will be easily accessible for tens of millions of people, and is the first to cross the mainland US since 1979.

At this very moment I am in Portland, Oregon not far from where this path of totality makes landfall. I am taking part in an eclipse outreach planning meeting, along with other astronomers, researchers, science educators and involved eclipse chasers. The meeting is held to coincide with this eclipse countdown day, and I will be doing a talk open to the general public along with some key eclipse gurus. Today, Americans across the path of totality will be encouraged to look towards the sky at eclipse time. Key things are to see the exact location of the Sun at first contact and totality time; to observe the weather, and to start considering plans for viewing in 2017. How lucky they are to have this occur in their home territory – something I know well from the eclipse of 2012 that went across North Queensland in Australia, where I am from.

Of course, in two years time on August 21 I know exactly where I will be – viewing this amazing event from within the stunning Grand Teton National Park with my fellow Independent Travellers. Rosemary and Natalie have cleverly secured arrangements in one of the most in-demand locations in the US for the eclipse. Our base is in Jackson Hole near to the centerline. This location really is amazing – both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks can be easily explored, and both have been on my travel wish list for many years. I’m excited about this trip and I cannot wait, although I know from my countdown that there are two full years to go.

But that’s not all. There is another eclipse countdown also occurring this weekend. There are now only 200 days to go for the next total solar eclipse on March 9 2016. The path of totality for this next eclipse crosses Indonesia. I will be in Palu and will be quite involved with the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival. Happily, I will be able to use the opportunity to do more of my psychological research, delving further into the eclipse experience from the perspective of younger travellers.

As well as keeping an eye on future eclipse countdowns, us eclipse chasers often reminisce about past eclipses. Every total eclipse remains special, and marks these awe-inspiring and life-enhancing moments we have in memorable locations across the world. This month marks an especially significant eclipse moment for me – my very first total solar eclipse on August 11 1999, which I saw in Fecamp, France. Those of you who have read my account of this in my first book Total Addiction will know how special it was, and how it marked my transition from an ‘eclipse virgin’ to ‘eclipse chaser’. It really did transform my life, and I had no idea that it would do so. August also marks the 2008 total eclipse that I saw from outer Mongolia – what an incredible and unique experience that was.

Being an eclipse chaser is so rewarding – we look forward to and remember these moments, savoring the awe and beauty of each and every eclipse. I know from my research and personal experience that this makes us appreciate life and the experiences we have, for which we are humbly grateful. How wonderful it is to be an eclipse chaser.

24 Dec 2014

Researching eclipse weather using Citizen Science

One of the concerns about the up-and-coming total solar eclipse is the weather experienced along the path of totality during the month of March.  Existing weather statistics for the Faroe Islands taken from Vagar Airport collected over the past 20 years show that there is a high occurrence of cloud in March, and a high occurrence of precipitation.

However, there are two main problems with using this historical data for eclipse planning.  Firstly, the average weather statistics at one location in the Faroe Islands tell us nothing about the circumstances at locations across the islands.  And secondly, the average monthly weather statistics tell us little about weather at ‘eclipse time’ – from 8.40-10.40am.

Dr Geoff Sims and Dr Kate Russo in the Faroe Islands, March 2013
Dr Geoff Sims and Dr Kate Russo in the Faroe Islands, March 2014

For these reasons, I participated in a Citizen Science weather project in March 2014, exactly one year before the eclipse. Dr Geoff Sims – Australian Astrophysicist, Eclipse Photographer and fellow chaser – led the project.

Citizen science is where researchers involve the community to collect data to answer a specific question. In this case, we wanted to know what the weather was like at eclipse time, for the month of March, at various locations across the islands.  A number of locals took photographs of the Sun every morning at 9.40am (the time of totality) from their home or work location.  These photographs were then rated using a 5 point scale, from clear skies to completely overcast. The observations were also compared with the six-hour forecast to determine accuracy of predictions.

Sample of images captured in March 2013 for each coded category
Sample of images captured in March 2014 for each coded category

The following generalisations could be made:

  • As predicted, there was a lot of cloud.  However, on most days the Sun could be seen in at least one location at eclipse time;
  • There were several days where the weather was clear over most of the archipelago at eclipse time;
  • Some locations in the islands were more frequently cloudier than others at eclipse time, giving worse viewing odds;
  • The six-hour weather forecasts were not entirely accurate, with cloud appearing when clear skies were forecast, and some visibility where full cloud was forecast.
Frequency of cloud at eclipse time (darker regions represent more cloud)
Spatial map capturing the frequency of days in March 2014 where the cloud covered the Sun at 9.40am – totality time.  Note that darker regions denote more cloud.

A full report of this citizen science project was published in the December 2014 edition of The Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.  An overview was also published by Geoff for Astronomers Without Borders.

The results of this citizen science project confirmed my own direct observations of where to focus eclipse viewing in the Faroe Islands. It also confirmed the anecdotal views of local people.

Citizen science projects do have some limitations. However, this project allowed us to gather information about a practical problem in a way that was quick, inexpensive and which involved the local community one year in advance of the total eclipse.

Despite all this, we will still be very much at the whim of Mother Nature on 20th March 2015.  We can explore historical climate patterns, but as the saying goes, climate is what we expect, and weather is what we get. 

05 Oct 2014

Planning for 2015 – Part Two

March in the Faroes - make sure to wrap up warm to enjoy the spectacular outdoors. © Kate Russo 2014
March in the Faroes – make sure to wrap up warm to enjoy the spectacular outdoors. © Kate Russo 2014

Earlier in March 2014 I revisited the Faroe Islands.  This was a practice run for the Total Eclipse of 2015.  I wanted to see first hand what the weather would be like, and what challenges needed to be overcome for the eclipse.

Visiting in March reminded me of that Norwegian saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.  The weather was rather changeable – throughout the day there were spells of brilliant sunshine, hail, horizontal rain, blue skies and atmospheric gloom.  The weather would change dramatically – often within minutes.  Despite this, I was bemused to see that locals just carry on as normal – they continued their daily walks, their after work jogging.  People got on with things – they just wrapped up warm and carried on.

Having now seen the weather in March, I am convinced of three things.  Firstly, I am confident that we will be able to see SOME of the eclipse.  I think we will have to be extremely lucky to have totally clear blue skies on eclipse morning.  Being able to see the whole eclipse unfold, from first contact to fourth contact is also unlikely.  But I am much more optimistic that we will be able to get a short glimpse of totality having seen the weather.   Secondly, the weather was so changeable, in minutes, that I am convinced that the usual strategy of doing a last-minute dash for clear skies does not apply here.  The best thing is to find the most suitable location and stick with it as there is no way one can outrun the weather.  And finally, I am convinced that the best eclipse experience involves being near to a place of warmth.  It is not easy to stand still outside in the weather for any length of time.

I also noticed that same pull towards being in the great outdoors that I felt during my first visit last September.  There is something about the islands that compels you to be outdoors – to enjoy all that nature throws at you.  I am sure that regardless of the weather, everyone who travels to the Faroes for the eclipse in March 2015 will be spellbound by this magical place.  I had brilliant days, a fabulous trip, and I even was able to see a light aurora display.

I did a lot during my March visit – I did radio interviews, gave talks to schools and tourist information groups.  I connected with tour guides and hotel owners, to share thoughts about preparing for the eclipse.  Because of the outreach I had done, everywhere I went people knew who I was and wanted to talk about the eclipse.  I participated in a Citizen Science project along with a fellow eclipse chaser.  I scouted out eclipse viewing locations all across the islands.  i shared eclipse information with anyone and everyone who wanted to know.

One of the most rewarding things is to be able to share information and excitement about the eclipse to a community of people who are about to experience it.  I am delighted that the tour I am arranging also has a very strong community involvement element to it.   After many years of creating my own special and unique eclipse travel memories, I am excited to be in a position to provide a memorable eclipse experience for others.

It’s not too late to join me on my Faroe Islands Eclipse Tour with The Independent Traveller – get in touch, or find out more about the Eclipse of 2015.  

16 Oct 2013

Planning for 2015 – Part One

 

Me in the incredibly beautiful Faroe Islands. It's quite hard to take a bad photo. (c) Kate Russo
Me in the incredibly beautiful Faroe Islands. It’s quite hard to take a bad photo. (c) Kate Russo

I recently have partnered with The Independent Traveller and am now leading the Eclipse Tour to the Faroe Islands in 2015.  We went recently to explore the islands, to identify several potential eclipse viewing sites, and the many other logistical things that are required when finalising a tour.  I find the islands a fascinating place – so remote yet very connected to the outside world.  The islands are dramatic – you cannot escape nature here.  The people are warm and welcoming, and I love the ‘land of maybe’ attitude – things may or may not happen, all depending upon the weather.

What is interesting about the islands is that people were not really aware of what was going to happen in 2015.  We spoke to a lot of people, and I did an evening presentation about the eclipse and the locals are very keen to be involved.  The media were very interested in interviewing us.  The interest is there, but there is this interesting parallel perhaps related to the ‘land of maybe’ attitude that little has yet been centrally coordinated.  This is changing, however. In the meantime, I’m still going to come across as that crazy lady who gets excited about something that is happening quite a long time in the future.

Another interesting thing about the Faroe Islands is that they experienced a Total Solar Eclipse in 1954 – within living memory.  Many people we spoke to recalled their parents talking about the eclipse, or else experienced it for themselves.  Our tour guide, Olaf, described how he was playing football outside with a few friends when it suddenly went dark. He recalled being terrified and running into the house.  Others seemed to be aware that the eclipse was happening.  It is certainly an amazingly beautiful place to observe a total eclipse. The weather is going to be a little bit of a challenge – the islands are renowned for unstable weather.  You cannot predict the weather, nor can you control what happens.  But what you can do is to obtain local guidance and plan what you can and have back up plans.  Having been there, I am more confident about seeing the eclipse.  Transport and communication networks are excellent, meaning you can easily relocate the night before / early morning based on the weather.

I can’t wait to return to these lovely islands.  If it wasn’t for the eclipse, I probably would never have visited. Eclipse chasing certainly allows you to experience so much more in life and opens up to many rich experiences.