At 2:46 p.m. on Monday, August 21 I saw the most incredible thing I've ever seen in my life.
I woke up Monday morning in Mount Pleasant, SC to a thunderstorm and overcast skies. Not a great sign. All morning I obsessively checked radar, satellite, and computer model data looking for any sliver of hope that clouds would clear for the eclipse. There wasn't much to be found.
Shortly before noon we made it to the beach in Sullivans Island, SC and skies were still overcast though beginning to brighten a bit. If we had any hope it would be right on the beach as the sea breeze moved inland and pushed showers and storms away from the coast.
By 1:30 p.m., as the eclipse began, the clouds continued to break and finally I saw some signs of improvement on the satellite loop as clouds began to break just offshore. Could we get lucky?
It's wasn't until around 2:15 p.m. the clouds thinned enough that the ongoing eclipse was even visible with our eclipse glasses. By the time of totality the clouds were so thin we got the full show.
It's really hard to explain how incredible the experience of totality is. In the few minutes before totality the temperature dropped rapidly. You could feel a chill with the wind accelerating down the beach. Even the darkness is odd. The light was unusually flat and on the horizon you could see brightness south, east, and north. It felt like a sunset in every direction. It is bizarre.
Pelicans and other shore birds weren't enjoying the strange midday darkness. You could hear them moving around and flying up and down the beach as totality set in. The sounds, the feeling, and the sight was an absolute shock to the senses.
After the last sliver of the sun disappeared the eclipse glasses came off and everyone stared upward. For a second I thought, "that's it?" and then it happened. A brilliant bright ring appeared surrounded by incredible darkness. The sun's corona danced and shimmered in the most breathtaking spectacle I've ever seen. It literally took my breath away. I wasn't the only person in my group on the beach to get choked up at the immense beauty and sensory overload.
As totality ended the "diamond ring" effect caused a brilliant flash of light as the moon moved past the sun. It was beyond exhilirating.
As a weather geek it actually could not have been any better. Throw out all the astronomical stuff for just a second! While totality occured the western horizon was covered up by a thunderstorm with a number of gorgeous cloud-to-ground flashes and rumbles of thunder. How many people have been able to see totality while a thunderstorm roared a few miles away? Not many. It was freaking awesome.
To be honest, leading up to the eclipse I thought some of the ways people describe totality were a bit over the top. Life changing? Spiritual? Emotional? After 2 1/2 minutes of totality I can say that those vivid descriptions aren't off the mark. It was one of the most magical things I've ever seen. It exceeded every expectation I had.
I'm already counting down the days to 2024.