Tag: Dr Kate Russo

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.

11 Mar 2018

Totality 2020: Tour Announcement

Join me in the path of totality in 2020. (c) Kieron Circuit

 

I have some exciting news!

My 2020 tour in collaboration with The Independent Traveller is now finalised.

This will be my third eclipse tour with The Independent Traveller.  After our incredible experience of totality in Wyoming in August 2017, we are again offering something special and unique in astronomy travel, suitable for both new and experienced chasers. 

The tour will be led by me, and will be of appeal to those who want to have a great eclipse experience with a beautiful scenic outlook.  Clear skies, glacial lakes, and volcanos anyone??

Rosemary, the owner of The Independent Traveller, has been running tours in South America for many years, and has extensive contacts on the ground.  During her visit in January, she was able to secure exclusive use of a really beautiful viewing location in an area with excellent weather prospects, and some quite exclusive accommodation too.  A difficult mix to achieve in this part of Patagonia.

Here are the bare details:

  • Six-night tour, commencing and ending in Buenos Aires
  • Viewing from the Argentinian side of the Andes, giving us excellent weather prospects
  • Very comfortable hotel options, ensuring a quality experience
  • Pre- and post-eclipse briefings
  • Exclusive eclipse viewing site
  • Transport options in the unlikely event of poor weather at our primary viewing location
  • Estimated maximum numbers of 60

 

For more details of this tour, including pricing options, please register your interest here  – and mention our special code word:  OPTIMISM.   Rosemary will answer all of your questions and will be delighted to help you with the tour and some pretty incredible add-ons as well.

Interest is high, and there is no doubt that this tour will sell out.

We will not be offering a tour for 2019, although I will of course be traveling independently.

I look forward to welcoming you on this tour in 2020.

 

 

 

 

14 Jun 2017

Press Release – New Eclipse Book Describes the First-Time Eclipse Experience

book launch, eclipse experience, totality, eclipse, author, Dr Kate Russo, eclipse 2017, total eclipse

An eclipse-chasing psychologist is coming to the US to launch her book and share personal stories of what it is like to experience a total eclipse. And her message is clear – don’t miss this.

Talk to any eclipse chaser, and they will tell you that the total eclipse is one of the world’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon. Yet it is very hard to convey what it is like to those who have never seen one before. How does one describe the indescribable?

“During a total solar eclipse, you experience the impossible. It is an exhilarating, eerie and moving experience. Changes occur above you, around you, and within you”, explains Dr Kate Russo, an Australian eclipse-chasing psychologist based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Dr Kate Russo is unique as an eclipse chaser as she has a background not in astronomy – but in psychology.

Since seeing her first total eclipse in 1999, she has traveled the world and has now seen 10 total eclipses. She researches and shares different aspects of the total eclipse – from how communities prepare, the motivations of eclipse chasers, to what it is like to experience the total eclipse for the first time.

She is a regular in the media before every eclipse, and has surveyed and interviewed hundreds of people before and after a total eclipse. No one understands more about the human experience of totality.

“Many people think that a total eclipse is only of relevance to geeks or bearded men with telescopes. They do not realise it is an emotional and other-worldly experience for everyone. People are quick to turn off at facts and figures, and stories of traffic Armageddon. Personal stories convey WHY people are so excited by the eclipse on August 21st. You will feel a primitive and eerie fear; it will suddenly go dark, you are likely to feel goosebumps and then cry out in surprise as you experience the beauty of the Universe before you. You will feel insignificant, and connected as you witness the impossible. You may even then become an eclipse chaser yourself. It is a profound experience for many people. But you MUST get into the path of totality.”

To help share personal stories, Russo has just launched her third book, Being in the Shadow: Stories of the First-Time Total Eclipse Experience. This non-fiction book features stories from six ordinary people, and is aimed at ‘eclipse virgins’ – those who have never experienced a total eclipse. This includes all Americans under the age of 40, and most above. This is not your typical ‘how to see an eclipse’ book.

Russo is known for being a passionate and inspiring speaker, making the eclipse experience come alive and leaving her audiences wanting more. She is soon traveling to Nebraska from 17-28 June to deliver public lectures and to promote her new book. Signed copies will be available at all of her events.

She will be viewing the total eclipse on August 21 from Teton Village, Wyoming, where she will again be leading a small group of international eclipse chasers with her tour group The Independent Traveller.

Being in the Shadow: Stories of the First-Time Eclipse Experience can be purchased on Amazon.com for $16.99 for paperback, and $8.99 for the ebook, which can also be downloaded directly from the author website.

Email for bulk orders and journalist review copies.

Email:  Kate@beingintheshadow.com

FB: @Beingintheshadow

Twitter: @DrKateRusso

08 Jun 2017

On becoming an author

Dr Kate Russo, Author, Psychologist, Eclipse Chaser, Being in the Shadow
Being an author. @ Kieron Circuit

Today is a very special day.  Being in the Shadow:  Stories of the First-Time Eclipse Experience – my third book – has just been published.  It has been quite the journey, and I wanted to share a little personal back story into how I switched from being an academic to becoming an author.

I will rewind to just before the launch of my first book Total Addiction:  The Life of an Eclipse Chaser.  It is September 2012.  At that time, I was Assistant Course Director of a doctoral training programme in clinical psychology.   I had, by then, completed honors, masters and doctoral research theses – huge academic volumes requiring seven years of work in total between them.  I had also published research articles and contributed to book chapters as a psychologist and academic.  After 14 years or so of clinical work, I was fully immersed in the academic world, and spent many hours per day writing.  Total Addiction was a passion-project – something I did on the side.

Two days before the launch of Total Addiction, I walked through the Botanic Gardens to the Queen’s University main library to meet Julie.  She was sent from Springer – the publisher – to sell books at my Belfast book launch event.  She was waiting for me, sitting on an outdoor bench with a trolley bag full of books – my books.  We connected instantly.  We talked about what I had planned for the launch, and how she would take care of the book sales.  She was asking probing questions about how I was marketing myself as an author.

I found the word ‘author’ jarring – I didn’t feel like an author.   I must have frozen, as Julie had stopped talking, cocked her head to one side, and said very matter-of-factly:  “Dude, why is this so difficult.  Of course you are an author.”

After our meeting, I went home and googled the definition of an author, to see whether I was indeed one. (In case you are wondering:  a writer of a book, article, or document).  Technically, I was already an author and had been one for many years. Yet I had never called myself one, nor had I considered I was one.  Even though I was about to launch my first book, I was not convinced that I was worthy of the title of author.

It took a few months before I was more comfortable with the role.  By then, I had engaged in enough ‘author behaviors’ to feel like I could call myself an author.   I had been doing book launch activities, had regular discussions with my publisher, was signing my books, giving author talks, and had even run author workshops.   But it was all on the side of my main academic job.  I was not an author when I was engaged in my academic work.

After publishing Total Addiction, I wanted to take things even further.  I wanted to bridge the gap between psychology and astronomy, and translate that for a general audience in a more engaging way.  I wanted to use personal stories to share the power of the total eclipse with others.  I wanted to be an author who wrote about eclipses; rather than a researcher who studied them.   This is where the idea for Being in the Shadow was born.

I used the 2012 total eclipse in my home region as an opportunity gather research for this next project.   Following the eclipse, everyone wanted to share their stories, and I wanted to give people a place for their stories to be told.  I put  Being in the Shadow on hold, and I diverted my focus to publish my second book Totality:  The Total Eclipse of 2012 in Far North Queensland.  This was more of a souvenir book written from a community perspective.  It was my way of giving back to the community, to ensure that there was a lasting record for everyone who had experienced the total eclipse.  Again, I worked during the day while writing this project in the evenings.  I wasn’t an author – I was simply writing another passion project on the side.  The problem was that I associated being an author with the things that happen after publication, rather than the writing itself.

But after the publication of Totality in late 2013, my life fell apart.  I became seriously ill.  I had already started to look forward to all the author things – a launch party, promoting my talk, speaking events, author workshops.  Yet I was physically not well enough to do anything, and  I could no longer even function.  There was nothing to mark launch day, just collapsing in an exhausted heap.  My proposed launch party had to be cancelled.  My new book just sat there, in boxes.  To this day, Totality is a little like a ghost book to me – I wasn’t an author writing it; and I could do the author things after publication.

Anyone who has ever experienced changes in neurological functioning will know the fear of not being able to return to your former self.  For a while, I thought I was never going to be able to return to a working life at all.    It has actually taken me a good few years to get properly back on my feet again.  Whereas in the past I could complete multiple projects while also working full time, I had to slowly build up focusing only on one thing at a time.  And that one thing was eclipses.  It was my passion for sharing the eclipse experience that really got me through some dark days.  Now that I’m cognitively back up to speed (physically there is still some issues), I’ve been able to again work on multiple projects.  Instead of writing on the side, writing became my main focus.  I had finally learned that to write is to be an author.  Writing about eclipses was no longer something I did on the side – I wanted it to become my main focus.

In the year it has taken me to write Being in the Shadow, I have been able to embrace the fact that I am an author.

I love the process of writing, and now I love calling myself an author.  I have joined writer groups, have run more author workshops, and engage in what I consider to be author behavior.  And now I have just published my third book.  Today.  It is a great achievement for me, on so many levels.  Today, I am an author.  I feel proud that I have been able to write a book that is written for a general audience – and is not academic in nature.  Narrative non-fiction is a new style of writing for me, and I have a lot to learn. Having my psychology background, and using a phenomenological approach, are the reasons why this book is so unique.  I can go deep into people’s experiences, and help to share their stories.   It is through personal stories that we truly understand.

This time, I am going to make sure that I enjoy the achievement of publishing my third book.  There will be a launch party – not today, but soon.  There will be events, and author activities.  There will be book promotions, and signings.  All the things I was not ready to do with book one; and not able to do after publishing book two.   Today, I am an author who writes about eclipses.

 

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.

17 Mar 2016

Totality 9 March 2016 from Wayu Village, Palu, Central Sulawesi

The total solar eclipse – what can I say.  WOW!!

It was the clearest total eclipse I have seen since Mongolia in 2008.  That’s a long time to wait.

We saw totality from Wayu Village, high up in the mountains above Palu city, with sweeping views of the whole bay to the north, and down the valley to the centreline towards the south.  You could not have picked a better vantage point.

Filming from our vantage point up in Wayu Village, overlooking Palu. (c) 2016, Kate Russo
Filming from our vantage point up in Wayu Village, overlooking Palu. (c) 2016, Kate Russo

The skies were clear, the Sun was high up, and the atmosphere electric.  At first contact, a traditional music song was played, sounding like a single didgeridoo, which echoed down the valley.  It was tremendous.  There were further cultural performances – eclipse dances, chanting.  We were high above the festivities though, it was difficult to fully see what was happening.  but the music drifted upwards.

It was hot – why do I always forget to wear sunscreen?? The temperature at first contact was 31.5 Celsius, and over time it dropped slowly until after totality when it registered 24.5 degrees.  The light went weird, birds were confused, and it was thrilling.

The shadow was not as pronounced as other eclipses, but the moment of second contact was incredible.  The diamond ring hung there beautifully and seemed to last a lifetime.  And then – totality.  I screamed with delight as that familiar shadow fully covered all on that sacred mountain.  We whooped, cheered, hugged, and stood in silence at the wonder before us.  It felt like forever. Two planets were clearly visible, although the sky did not darken too much. I had a quick glance through binoculars and saw an incomplete but beautiful corona  and prominences at 9 o’clock, both of which were clearly visible without binoculars.   The shadow was much more pronounced from behind.  The light on the horizon was beautiful.  I was so grateful that the clouds stayed away.

And then third contact – always over too soon.

Totality from Eclipse Festival. (c) 2016, unknown
Totality from Eclipse Festival. (c) 2016, unknown

I was incredibly lucky to have this eclipse experience documented by MetroTV.  I must say that spending days with the crew really added to the whole experience, and it was such a privilege to share that with them.

There is so much more to say.  This eclipse will always be very special because of how we shared it – amongst the local population, our experience to be shared with the local community.  What a wonderful, bonding and precious time that was.

eclipse day group 1

Afterwards, I did a post-eclipse research workshop at the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival, where we shared the eclipse experience.  It was a very special time.

Researching the eclipse experience at the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival the day after the total solar eclipse. (c) 2016, Kate Russo
Researching the eclipse experience at the Sulawesi Eclipse Festival the day after the total solar eclipse. (c) 2016, Kate Russo

The documentary featuring this eclipse experience, the research I have done, the pre- and post-eclipse workshops I did at the Eclipse Festival, and interviews – all will be aired across Indonesia to millions.  What a wonderful way of sharing this amazing natural phenomena.   The below clip is the promotional video for the full show.

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.