Total Solar Eclipse Chase Adventure: August 21, 2017

Mar 23, 2009
56
28
6
East Bethel, Minnesota
On Monday, August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse crossed the middle of the United States of America from the NW to the SE. It was to be one of the biggest spectator events in American History, and I decided to be part of that history. After several months of indecision in 2016, I decided our family would make the trip to St. Joseph, MO, the closest town to our Twin Cities, MN, about a 6.5 hour drive. By the time I finally made up my mind all the hotels/motels within miles were booked up. The only thing left was camp grounds and then only the “roughing it” with a tent spots.

My wife, was an experienced camper, so I figured she’d pull us through. I invited my mom, to tag along even though she was just a month shy of her 87th birthday. She had never been camping in a tent before, so it surprised me when she agreed to go and cover most of our travel expenses! Also set to come along for the ride were our two boys, ages 11, and 9.

The big day finally arrived for us to leave and I had reserved the three days minimum at Ol’ MacDonald Camp Grounds in Savanna, MO.

On Sunday, August 20th, I rounded up my wife and kids; then stopped to get Grandma, and we were off. We had brought two tents, a big one for us, and a smaller one for my mom. We had also been forewarned by the news media to bring extra supplies of food, drink, and lighting, because local supermarkets had run low as well as gas stations and other merchandisers. Up to 7 Million people were gathering from across the USA to experience this event. Cell phones and Internet were overloaded, and law enforcement was overwhelmed. Roads were at a stand-still, and the National Guard had been called out in some spots.

I wasn’t worried. I took the Storm Chase Vehicle: my 2005 Turbo-Diesel Dodge RAM 3500 Extended Cab 1-Ton 4x4 pickup truck. I had extra enhancements like a 56 gallon fuel tank (900 mile range) Off Road Lights, Spot Lights, Utility Lights, Mars/Cap modified Ham Radios, CB Radio, GPS, Digital Police Scanner with Weather Alert, and DVD Player with digital TV reception for the kids. We didn’t need to rely on our Cell Phones for communication.

Since we drove down on Sunday, most of the traffic had thinned out. The drive wasn’t all that bad, although a little more congested than usual. We ended up arriving at the camp grounds after dark and no one was at the office to check us in. A lady was parked there in her car charging her Cell Phone. I walked up to ask her help and she explained that the camp grounds had been inundated with people and the owners had become over-whelmed with it all and given up. Our reserved camp site we’d paid for in advance, had been taken. It was basically a free-for-all pitch your tent wherever you can situation! We drove around in the dark and finally found a couple of open spots in a remote location. There were other campers all around, and the guy next to us was still awake. He turned on his headlights and I used my spot light so we could see well enough to pitch our tents.

As my wife began to unpack everything it became apparent that we had forgotten to pack some of our stuff. One of those items was the tent stakes! We ended up finding the stakes for the smaller tent intended for Grandma, and used them to stake our big tent. This meant that all of us were going to have to sleep in the same tent--packed in like sardines. After about two hours of organization we were finally moved into our temporary dwelling. After tracking down a porta-potty in the dark, we all managed to get ready for bed and slip into a restless sleep for the night.

We were all awakened the next morning around 7am by a News helicopter flying overhead probably reporting on the over-whelming crowds filling the camp grounds around the area. Meanwhile, there was also a mesoscale convective complex of cluster thunderstorms forming all around us. I reasoned that we were not going to be able to view the total solar eclipse from our chosen location. I put my storm chasing skills to work and from studying a map of the eclipse path as well as weather charts, and listening to the weather forecast, I urged us all to hop in the truck and head about 200 miles east where it was sunny.

By 9:30am we were on the road again from our base camp attempting to make it to Fulton, MO, about 200 miles ESE of Kansas City on I-70. Hopefully we’d make it there before 1:06pm when the moon would completely block out the sun. We weren’t the only ones with this idea though; the Kansas City Metro area was not in the path of totality, and combined with the intensifying cluster thunderstorms, Eastbound I-70 was averaging about 15 MPH. After about 1.5 hours of stop and go on the freeway and pouring rain, I was ready to just give up and turn back for our tent when suddenly traffic started moving a little faster. We were up to 50 MPH! I decided to keep on truckin’ and see if we could out run the cloud cover. As I continued to drive east speeds increased and we were almost doing the speed limit now. About an hour later, the rain was well behind us and we could see blue skies about 10 miles to the south.

By 12:15pm, I had my wife looking on the map for a town to pull over in. We weren’t going to make it to Fulton, but we were in good shape to see the eclipse. Although there was still cloud cover it was hazy sun now. You could barely see shadows on the ground and if you looked up, you could see the shining ball of our nearest star overhead.

It was 12:45pm when we pulled off the freeway in the city of Columbia, MO. After unsuccessfully trying to find a park in which to set up our chairs, we pulled into a grocery store parking lot in downtown Columbia, to make our stand. The sun was fairly visible through high cloud cover with blue skies still about 10 miles south. I didn’t want to risk driving further south as it might take us out of the 70-mile wide swath of totality. There we sat with only a few other eclipse watchers scattered about the parking lot. We put our Eclipse Glasses on, and had a great view of the partial eclipse already in progress!

Just before totality the temperature started to drop, and a pleasant cool breeze picked up from the west. The hazy cloud cover started to dissipate and break apart, and it started to get noticeably darker. There was still too much haze to see any stars, but it was a very pleasant and peaceful experience.

When totality hit we had enough visibility to clearly see the sun’s corona glowing through the haze. People started shouting and cheering, and we heard fireworks going off all around the town. We took our glasses off and stared directly at the fully blocked out disk of the sun. It was a beautiful mesmerizing sight. Next we looked all around at the horizon. It was like dusk or dawn in a 360° circle all around; pretty pinks, oranges and reds. It wasn’t as dark as they said it would be, but more like it gets just before a severe thunderstorm. The street lights came on, but you could still see well enough to get around easily. The totality lasted for about 2.5 minutes and it was one of the most heavenly experiences I’ve ever had on this earth.

As the sun’s rays began to peek through again it got bright quickly and the temperature started rising fast. The sky also completely cleared out to a crystal blue. A guy came up and started talking with us about the experience. We were all in a good mood and felt it had been worth all the challenges.

Little did we know, our adventure was not yet over. Even though we left for camp about 1.5 hours after the event, the roads were just as jammed up as they were on our way out there. It got worse at each small town as droves of vehicles were backed up trying to get on I-70 back towards Kansas City.

We decided to pull off at the next town and have dinner hoping that traffic would thin some afterward. We used the GPS to look for some nice family sit down restaurants nearby. The closest one that came up was about 10 miles away, so we set our sights on a nice meal. When we finally arrived at the location in some really small hick town, the restaurant was CLOSED!

We had to back track another 10 miles to the freeway and found a dive pizza joint to eat at. While at the pizza joint the skies got dark again and a severe thunderstorm warning went out for the area. We waited out the storm and finished our meal, then headed off for camp again. We learned that a Flash Flood Watch had been issued for a large area of eastern Kansas, and northwestern Missouri, including our camp grounds, from 10pm that night until 10am the next morning.

Since we had paid for another night at the camp grounds, my wife wanted to stop at a Walmart in Kansas City and resupply our stock as well as buy a set of tent stakes so we could set up the second tent for Grandma and give everybody more room. With traffic flowing much better we made great time the rest of the way, but not without more severe thunderstorm warnings going out, and a Flash Flood Warning went out for parts of Kansas City. As we pulled into Walmart’s parking lot we could see really dark clouds in the direction of our camp site up in the St. Joe/Savanna area, and a lot of lightning.

I was monitoring the SkyWarn Repeater on the Ham Radio, and they were giving reports of a major rainfall event heading into the area from Topeka, KS. More of the sky was filling with dark clouds and lightning during the 45 minutes the wife was in Walmart. She came out just as the storm was entering the area and we got loaded up just in time.

No sooner had we gotten on the freeway towards our camp site than a Severe Thunderstorm Warning went out for the area we were in that included hail and torrential rains. The rain was falling so hard that people had pulled over with their four-ways on, my kids were scared, and a major accident had taken place on the other side of the freeway with cops everywhere. The Storm Chase Vehicle kept on and we managed to drive through it after about 15 miles of treacherous road. By the time we got to St. Joseph, 50 miles to the north, the roads were dry and the rest of the drive was uneventful.

The area we were in was still under a Flash Flood Watch, and it had also gotten completely dark. When we arrived back at camp no one was left. All the other tents were gone and almost all of the RV’s had moved on. With no one else around in the dark, my wife wasn’t about to try and set up the second tent, so we set out organizing our big tent better so we’d be more comfortable. The wife also swapped out the tent stakes with the better ones she’d bought to stabilize our dwelling better. We were all so exhausted we went to bed early, but kept getting awakened up by the Weather Alert Radio issuing Flash Flood warnings. It then started to rain hard at our location.

The storms came in three waves with the second one being the worst. It rained so hard that water flowed under our tent floor like a river, then the wind picked up. Between the rain and wind I was lying there awake wondering of the power lines we were camped under might fall, when the tent collapsed in on us! The wife and I both sprang up from our airbeds and pushed the tent back up off of us.

My wife went out in the pouring rain to secure the tent stakes again and then the Weather Service issued a Flash Flood Emergency for the Kansas City area. Nine inches of rain had fallen in some areas in just a few hours! We wondered if we were going to be swept away?

Miraculously we made it through the night and woke up to sunny skies. We spent the day visiting the Pony Express and Jesse James House, museums in St. Joe. When we got back to our tent to pack it up we found it collapsed again from the gusty winds that day. During the collapse some of the tent supports must have bent, because it took us much longer to pack up than it did to set up. It was nearly 9pm before we finally pulled out for the 6.5 hour drive back home.

We drove through the night. The wife and I kept switching as drivers to keep from falling asleep. Grandma and the kids slept most of the way, but not much for us. It was just shy of 5am when we dropped Grandma off at home, and everyone was heading into work as we traveled the last stretch of freeway towards our house, safe and sound at last....
 
Jul 25, 2019
14
5
1
Minnesota
Howdy neighbor! My husband and I traveled from MN to see the eclipse as well. We lucked out getting a hotel in Chillicothe, MO. The next day we kept driving all over the place to find an area that wasn't obscured by clouds. We finally pulled over in some beat up parking lot in Carrollton, MO. The person next to us had a TV going in the back of his SUV so we all watched the live footage. It was cloudy and we were feeling a bit discouraged as it began to darken, but the haze was just thin enough for us to see the eclipse and diamond ring as the sun began to emerge. I remember bursting into tears and feeling fortunate that we didn't miss out after all.

I don't recall any storms on the way back home that day. The only eventful moment, besides the eclipse, was finding a zombie themed burger joint. It's really fun restaurant named "Zombie Burger", in Des Moines.

Thank you for sharing that story. Three generations on an adventure of a lifetime!
 
Mar 23, 2009
56
28
6
East Bethel, Minnesota
Howdy neighbor! My husband and I traveled from MN to see the eclipse as well. We lucked out getting a hotel in Chillicothe, MO. The next day we kept driving all over the place to find an area that wasn't obscured by clouds. We finally pulled over in some beat up parking lot in Carrollton, MO. The person next to us had a TV going in the back of his SUV so we all watched the live footage. It was cloudy and we were feeling a bit discouraged as it began to darken, but the haze was just thin enough for us to see the eclipse and diamond ring as the sun began to emerge. I remember bursting into tears and feeling fortunate that we didn't miss out after all.

I don't recall any storms on the way back home that day. The only eventful moment, besides the eclipse, was finding a zombie themed burger joint. It's really fun restaurant named "Zombie Burger", in Des Moines.

Thank you for sharing that story. Three generations on an adventure of a lifetime!
I'm glad I was able to finally post this adventure. I had tried back in 2017, but this Forum had a 10,000 character limit and wouldn't allow me to post the complete adventure.

You missed out on the storms because you went back to Minnesota. We had rented the camp site for another day so we could visit the local museums etc., after all the crowds left. All the storms were in Missouri and Kansas. See what you missed by going home too soon. :) I don't know where Chillicothe, MO is. I had studied the weather maps and roads before we left Minnesota, just in case we'd have to travel to get a good view. It paid off, although it was a bit of leap of faith, as I was operating on maps and charts I had printed out 36 hours prior to the event.
 
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Jul 25, 2019
14
5
1
Minnesota
My husband sussed out the hotel by searching the path and then went to find hotels in less populated areas. I'm glad it worked out for both of us. Not sure I'd say I "missed" getting rained on while floating away in a tent. ;)
 
Mar 23, 2009
56
28
6
East Bethel, Minnesota
My husband sussed out the hotel by searching the path and then went to find hotels in less populated areas. I'm glad it worked out for both of us. Not sure I'd say I "missed" getting rained on while floating away in a tent. ;)
I simply had waited too long to book any reservations. That isn't going to happen with the 2024 total eclipse in Indianapolis, IN. I am going to start looking in early 2023!
 
Jul 25, 2019
14
5
1
Minnesota
I simply had waited too long to book any reservations. That isn't going to happen with the 2024 total eclipse in Indianapolis, IN. I am going to start looking in early 2023!
No kidding! My husband and I were thinking of booking something maybe in Virginia or Tennessee. Unfortunately, we read that some people who were pro-active in getting reservations way in advance in some areas in 2017 had their rooms cancelled so they could re-open them at a higher cost. Sheesh. Hope that doesn't happen going ahead.
 
Jun 24, 2010
100
78
11
Norman, OK
My roommates and I planned our trip months in advance. We chose Eastern Missouri/Western Illinois because it was supposedly the area of longest totality and I have a friend who lives around St. Louis who was willing to let us crash at her apartment.

We ended up viewing the eclipse from a Starbucks in Sullivan, MO. There were clouds in the sky but they weren't thick enough to prevent us from seeing the full event from start to finish. It was a fun experience, one I can't wait to to again in 2024.
 
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Mar 23, 2009
56
28
6
East Bethel, Minnesota
My roommates and I planned our trip months in advance. We chose Eastern Missouri/Western Illinois because it was supposedly the area of longest totality and I have a friend who lives around St. Louis who was willing to let us crash at her apartment.

We ended up viewing the eclipse from a Starbucks in Sullivan, MO. There were clouds in the sky but they weren't thick enough to prevent us from seeing the full event from start to finish. It was a fun experience, one I can't wait to to again in 2024.
Yeah, the one in 2024 will be twice as long at around 4 minutes! It's also the last one in the USA for 80 years.
 
Mar 23, 2009
56
28
6
East Bethel, Minnesota
What do you mean? I'll be 76 then and I plan on living forever! 👽
No man in my family on either side has ever lived passed the age of 61. I had quad-bypass heart surgery at 49. I'm 59 now. I'm expecting to cash in anytime now. I've already prepared so my wife and kids will be okay financially.

On a lighter note, all those Antecedents passed before we had the new Cholesterol drugs, and well before the new experimental gene therapies that exist today. I'm on those treatment plans--so far so good!
 
Jul 25, 2019
14
5
1
Minnesota
Oh no. I hope I didn't offend you. Do you have a specific condition? You're right though. There are so many more advancements these days, that I really do hope you live much, much longer. Not that I'm any type of expert, but my husband works for Medtronic in the defibrillator/pacemaker department. Sometimes I find comfort in hearing about all the new technology that is continuing to be made to keep people healthier. :)
 
Mar 23, 2009
56
28
6
East Bethel, Minnesota
Oh no. I hope I didn't offend you. Do you have a specific condition? You're right though. There are so many more advancements these days, that I really do hope you live much, much longer. Not that I'm any type of expert, but my husband works for Medtronic in the defibrillator/pacemaker department. Sometimes I find comfort in hearing about all the new technology that is continuing to be made to keep people healthier. :)
Very high LDL Cholesterol (the bad stuff). I was in a research study, and now I'm on Repatha injections to reduce my LDL Cholesterol. It went from over 200 down to about 47! Repatha is a wonder drug, but VERY expensive. My insurance pays over $15,000 per year for me to be on it. And now we are WAAAAAY off topic for this Thread.
 
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