CLEMSON, S.C. — Jim Melvin is as happy as anyone in America right now.
Melvin is the public affairs director at Clemson University who worked intensively planning for the total solar eclipse which, weather permitting, would be clear from the South Carolina public university.
He worked for a year — and on nights and weekends for the last six months — to plan a program for as many as 50,000 students and guests who flocked to the campus for the eclipse. It was also the first day of school, and Clemson had its convocation a few hours before the total eclipse, to make planning double trouble.
Melvin knew that the ultimate success of his efforts depended on fickle weather. If clouds covered the eclipsed sun at 2:37 p.m., and stayed there for two minutes and 37 seconds, then the people assembled on the Clemson campus, sweltering in temperatures that felt like 104 degrees, would miss the main show.
They didn’t. The weather cooperated and right on time, the moon moved in front of the sun, the sky darkened, bugs thought it was night and began to buzz, and the crowd gathered at the heart of the Clemson campus began to hoot and holler. Melvin, who was watching with his wife and youngest daughter, cried.
“I don’t know if it was because of the eclipse or because everything just worked or a combination of the two,” he said. “My wife cried because she got her husband back. All the work paid off.”
The work included checking the long-term weather forecast “100,000 times or so,” he said, and trying not to get too worried at the negative forecasts. Up until the last minute, it was unclear whether the total eclipse could be seen.
Howard Spero, a professor in the department of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California Davis, said he loved what he saw at Clemson, his ninth total eclipse. The planet Mercury could be seen “just off the left side” and so could “helmet streamers,” bright streams of light emanating from the sun named after spiked helmets of the late 1800s in Europe. Also visible at the end were what is known as Bailey’s Beads, essentially beads of light that have escaped from the moon’s surface just before totality.
“I’ve seen them all, from magnificent eclipses like this one, to ones where you only see totality for a second,” he said. “This one ranked up there with the best.”