Nebraska Will Be Prime Destination For Viewing 2017 Solar Eclipse


September 1st, 2016

Total solar eclipse in France in 1999. (Photo credit Luc Viatour /, via Wikimedia Commons)

Total solar eclipse in France in 1999. (Photo credit Luc Viatour /, via Wikimedia Commons)

Do you know where you’ll be on August 21, 2017? Many people already do. That’s the date of the first total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 38 years. Some of the best viewing nationwide will be right here in Nebraska.

Pastor Gary Fugman of Lyons knows exactly where he’ll be next August.

“We called up the Comfort Inn in Grand Island and we set up a room there for ourselves more than six months ago, so this is like a year and a half ahead of the eclipse,” said Fugman, who’s part of the Northeast Nebraska Astronomy Club.

That group will be among the millions watching as the moon gradually moves between the earth and the sun, creating a total solar eclipse. While the entire country will see a partial eclipse next year, to get the full effect, you have to be fully in the moon’s shadow, in the line of totality. Fugman said that line, about 50 to 60 miles wide, stretches from the Oregon Coast, across the Rocky Mountains through the Great Plains and exits in the Carolinas.

That line of optimal viewing will pass directly through Nebraska, and directly through the small town of Ravenna, where Gena McPherson is coordinating local preparations.

“The eclipse has been on our radar for a very long time. Knowing how big a deal this was going to be, I just kinda took it upon myself to get that part of it going,” McPherson said. She’s also leading the effort to get locals excited about this rare cosmic event.

“Education is key in all of this, for people to understand why it’s a once in a lifetime event and why, even if you don’t have an inkling of interest in astronomy, you are not going to want to miss this,” she said. There are many reasons why Nebraska will be the best place to watch the eclipse, McPherson said, and Ravenna in particular.

“The biggest one, right now, is duration of totality. That varies everywhere. And Ravenna has one of the longest times, which is two minutes and 35 seconds. That’s only six seconds short of the longest time in the whole U.S.,” McPherson said.

McPherson shows off the baseball and football fields that will become eclipse central—with vendors selling food, souvenirs and protective eyewear.

“On the actual eclipse day, people are going to have their camping chairs, blankets, their telescopes, their cameras on tripods, so this nice open area is going to provide that space for them to be able to spread out and view the eclipse in the way that they would want to,” McPherson said.

While it’s hard to know how many people will show up, estimates range from two to eight thousand people per viewing location across Nebraska. And the best viewing will occur in many smaller towns. That’s why Ravenna is partnering with nearby Kearney. Visitors can take advantage of the larger city’s lodging and amenities, said McPherson, then travel up to Ravenna for the eclipse.

Nebraska’s I-80 corridor also offers ease of travel for eclipse chasers. And the weather should cooperate.

“Statistics are showing that Nebraska is going to be one of your best places for a high probability of a clear sky. Nobody wants it to be cloudy and storming when the eclipse is happening cause then you can’t see it,” McPherson said.

And Ravenna isn’t the only town making plans.

“From Alliance to Beatrice, there’s a lot of communities planning amazing things and I think we’re going to be able to put our best foot forward for all of the visitors from out of state and out of country that are coming,” said Muriel Clark, assistant director of the North Platte-Lincoln County Visitor’s Bureau. She’s been involved in planning events and activities in North Platte and the nearby communities of Tryon and Stapleton, which are also in the line of totality.

Some international visitors have already made their Nebraska travel plans, Clark said. She rents rooms in her home through Air BnB, and said those rooms have been rented for the eclipse for about a year now to a group from the UK.

Many area hotels are already booked. Carhenge, near Alliance, will also be a peak viewing site. Grand Island visitors can view the eclipse at the Stuhr Museum, where historical interpreters will respond to the eclipse as if it were the 1890s. Stapleton even moved its annual rodeo to coincide with the eclipse weekend.

“We’re really trying to give our visitors an experience of what it’s like to live here and our history and our culture. As well as amazing eclipse viewing opportunities because of our dark skies and broad horizons,” Clark said.

Ten community tourism organizations have banded together to market the state as an eclipse destination. The state tourism commission is putting $50,000 into the effort. Nearly every Nebraska community in the line of the totality is planning something around the eclipse, and because it falls on a Monday, many of those include weekend festivities.

“Our visitors can come into town on Thursday and Friday and experience a whole weekend of western events and activities and then view the eclipse on Monday,” Clark said.

So what can you expect? According to amateur astronomer Fugman, a total solar eclipse is an eerie experience.

“In broad daylight, it gets dusky and dark, birds stop singing. Chickens go to roost. Cattle go back to the barn,” Fugman said. But when asked if he’d ever seen a total solar eclipse before, he laughed, and said he hasn’t. Then he described an “expedition” he took in the early 90s to see a total solar eclipse.

“We drove through parts of old Mexico, picked up a private airplane pilot and flew to Mazatlan and thought we had the best place, and turned out we were clouded out just a few hours before the eclipse,” said Fugman. That’s why he’s been looking forward to this rare chance to observe the sun for so many years.

“When you’re on the centerline and totality happens for like two minutes, the corona shines, the atmosphere of the sun shines out from behind the moon and you can see streamers and eruptions on the sun,” said Fugman.

The total solar eclipse will move across Nebraska midday on Monday, August 21, 2017. Better make your plans now.

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