My Experience with the April 8, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

“It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. - Carl Sagan

My Experience with the April 8, 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Monday April 8th was a long day but completely worth it. I had spent the previous week before the eclipse pouring over cloud sky cover percentages and researching sites from Arkansas to Indiana that had viewing areas. Historically, Texas and Arkansas had the best probability of clear skies, but that would be a long drive. Hotel accommodations where approaching astronomical rates of $1000/day and several days being required. I didn’t want to risk that amount of investment.

Starting on Tuesday, April 2nd, I researched Poplar Bluff, MO with a 24% chance of clouds and Mt Vernon, IL with 45% chance. Poplar Bluff would be a 450 mile drive of 7 hours. Later on Tuesday, Poplar Bluff cloud cover increased to 38% but Mt Vernon, IL dropped to 33%. Carbondale, IL looked the best but they were so much in the news that I thought the crowds would be intolerable.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Mt Vernon vacillated between 32 and 25%, Poplar Bluff jumped from 18 to 28%, Indianapolis looked good at 22%. I was looking at various city predictions and ensemble weather models from both Canada and the United States. Canada always looked much more optimistic and I’m not sure what 25% sky cloud cover looks like. So I Googled best places to see the eclipse from Illinois and the first city listed was Fairfield, IL which had a viewing area at the Wayne County Fairgrounds. They didn’t seem to be gouging people like the other cities that were charging $50 just to park. Fairfield had a Walmart, McDonalds and a DQ. What more could you ask for, plus they were only 268 miles (4.5 hour drive) and had a 4 minute 2 second total eclipse time. Their cloud cover prediction was 24%.

Fairfield had the lead but Friday and Saturday showed cloud predictions rising from 20% to 49%. Sunday saw a good estimate of 31% but last minute predictions on Monday morning were less optimistic. Should we plan on a site 50 miles east or west or stick with the plan?

What the hell, my wife Carol, older daughter, Jennifer, younger son, Curt, and I piled into my van at 3:40 AM Monday headed to Fairfield, IL. We packed the van with beverages, sausage and cheese and enough snacks for 24+ hours. It was a foggy trip down I57 but optimism prevailed. We arrived at the fairgrounds at 9:15 AM and backed into our grassy area along the race track on the other side of the fence. We were about the 10th car to arrive. We were glad the sun had come out but I was a little shocked that there were only 2 porta-poddies and no indoor facilities available. With several hundred people eventually arriving, I thought the lines might get too long, but that never materialized. My guess is that people used some of the local establishments.

selfie of Jen, Curt & Carol and I in background, my shoes look enormous, Wayne County Fairgrounds Race Course in the background

Time seemed to slow but we chatted with the people in the cars on either side of us. We were surprised that one side was from Lombard, our adjacent suburb, and the other side was from Arlington Heights, also close by. As totality approached, we all noticed the dimming sunlight and cooler temperatures. At 2:01 PM totality started and it was amazing. Darkness descended and the planets Venus and Jupiter appeared in the sky. I was a little bummed that the park lights came on, but if I held my hat in front of me, I was able to shield my eyes from its glare. The Sun’s beautiful corona appeared and I noticed that it was more circular than when we saw a total eclipse in August, 2017 in Gallatin, TN. That eclipse was shorter (2+ minutes) and the corona had 3 spikes to it. I also noticed a pink prominence in the southern part of the sun’s disk. The picture below, taken by my son, confirms it.

Curt’s picture of the total eclipse event, note the solar prominence at the south

In 4 minutes it ended. I was amazed how bright the first point of light from the sun was and immediately reached for my eclipse glasses intended for partial eclipse viewing. I noticed that I didn’t get as emotional as I did during the August, 2017 eclipse. That might be due to being a little jaded as a multi-total eclipse viewer or just that I’m 7 years older.

We waited about 40 minutes before packing up and heading home. The last eclipse taught is not to try to be the first ones out of the park. Travel was initially good but I57 was stop and go until north of Champaign, IL. Here we are at the back of our van.

Curt, Jen, Carol and I after the event

We didn’t roll into our driveway until 8:30 PM. It was a long 17 hour day with 561 miles of total travel. The traffic going home added almost 2 hours to our travel time. Maybe this time we should have pulled a “Griswold’s departure” and exited the park quickly.

I was happy to hear that my older son, Jay, and his 2 sons, Ian and Ryan were able to view a shortened total eclipse of 90 seconds from his father-in-law’s property near Greenup, IL So the Mueller family was well represented at the total eclipse with a father, mother, 3 kids and 2 grandkids.

MASS members also took in the partial eclipse event from the Chicago area. I saw Beth and her family posting on Facebook and Dean sent me pictures that he took of the event. Keith also sent me pictures of his family viewing the event.

Near maximum of the partial eclipse from Chicago area by Dean

Not sure I’ll be around to view another total solar eclipse, but I’m happy that I got out to watch this one with my family. And I have the T-shirts to prove that I was there in April 2024 and August 2017.