Democracy Dies in Darkness

Capital Weather Gang | Perspective

Chasing the total solar eclipse in Nebraska was 'the adventure of a lifetime'

By Matthew Cappucci

August 22, 2017 at 12:41 PM

Watch more!
The Post's Matthew Cappucci and WBOC's chief meteorologist Dan Satterfield traveled hundreds of miles to see totality on Aug. 21 in Nebraska. (Matthew Cappucci/The Washington Post)

They say a picture's worth a thousand words, and oftentimes a picture captures only a fraction of the story; now imagine going to actually see a total solar eclipse, experiencing firsthand one of the most incredible and indescribable natural phenomena mankind will ever witness. Words really can't do it justice, and without a doubt, it was the adventure of a lifetime.

I teamed up with Dan Satterfield, chief meteorologist at television affiliate WBOC-TV in Salisbury, Md. For those who don't know Dan, he's not only one of the best meteorologists in the country but also hands-down one of the kindest and all-around best people you'll ever meet.

I rendezvoused with Dan on Sunday evening in Lincoln, Neb., after a morning flight from Boston and a connection in Minneapolis. After a friend dropped me off at the hotel where Dan and his family were staying, we quickly began plotting our next move.

Dan's years of forecasting experience and unparalleled gut instinct meant he knew well ahead of time that Lincoln could be socked-in with cloud cover during the eclipse, and we decided to spend the night at my hotel room in Grand Island instead. Here, we would be centrally located so that after reviewing incoming weather data in the morning we could make the final call as to where we'd have the best shot at optimal eclipse-viewing conditions.

We pored over model data until 1 a.m., meanwhile cramming four people (and Riley, the world's cutest dog) into the microscopic hotel room. Despite the close, cramped quarters, energy and spirits were quite high — we were gearing up to chase one of the most spectacular marvels any of us will ever see. After a few hours' rest Sunday night, we woke up at a quarter to six, quickly packing our bags and beginning the trek west.

After 300 miles of driving, we settled just south of Alliance, Neb. It looked like a normal day, but as the clock ticked to totality, things slowly became weirdly ominous. Even a half-hour before totality, the sun was at its peak height in the sky and shining strongly — yet something about the light didn't seem quite right. Whether it was the color, intensity, or some other attribute, I can't say for sure, but one couldn't help but feel the slightest bit uneasy.

All the while, an eerie quiet calm enveloped the region, and the breeze began to die down. As intermittent clouds streamed overhead, a crescent-shaped fingernail of a sun emerged dimly through the veil. The temperature plummeted nine degrees leading up to the big moment.

Solar eclipse, Aug. 21, Nebraska. (Matthew Cappucci)

Seconds before totality, a gray curtain of twilight began to appear on the western horizon, and before we knew it, it was directly over us. In under 10 seconds, we crossed from full-on sunshine to utter darkness, while daylight was visible from all angles creeping up from the horizon. Many have described the "360 sunrise" that accompanies total eclipses, elegantly juxtaposed against a starry sky dominated by a brilliantly glowing black orb.

The moon appeared enormous, and the sun's corona prominently shone outward from behind it; it was surreal to be able to look directly at the sun with no physical danger whatsoever during totality, and the appearance of the celestial bodies was magnificent.

Total solar eclipse, Aug. 21, Nebraska. (Matthew Cappucci)

At the same time, the night-like darkness that had engulfed us was an unusual type of night — purple, royal blue and even a touch of green — combining in a unique shade of hues I had never been privileged enough to see before. Time seemed to slow down, yet anyone watching wished that totality would last forever.

I distinctly recall discussing this eclipse with my eighth-grade science teacher, Mrs. Runyon, seven years ago. Never in a million years did I expect then that I would be watching it from the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Some moments in our lives are those that we cling to and relive over and over again, constantly enjoying the memories as the years pass. This is precisely the sentiment I feel toward the eclipse.

Total solar eclipse, Aug. 21, Nebraska. (Matthew Cappucci)
Post Recommends
Outbrain

You obviously love great journalism.

With special savings on our Basic Digital package, you’ll never miss a single story again.

Already a subscriber?

Secure & Encrypted