Nebraskans Celebrate Eclipse from Border to Border

Two eclipse watchers getting just the right view at Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News)
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August 21, 2017 - 4:45pm

Nebraskans and thousands of visitors from across the nation and the world joined together Monday to take in the total solar eclipse. Some got a better view than others, but most left pleased with the unique celestial experience.


A Mystical Experience at Carhenge

A few thousand eclipse watchers gathered at Carhenge, north of Alliance, Nebraska. Carhenge was built starting in the summer of 1987 by Jim Reinders and his family. Reinders said he wanted to build “Stonehenge West,” but didn’t have any stones so they used old cars.

Darkness from the total solar eclipse settles over Carhenge near Alliance, Nebraska. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News)

The crowds may not have been as big as the buzz around Carhenge before the eclipse. A partly cloudy forecast may have scared some off. But the roadside attraction had never seen a larger crowd.

In the run up to the event the lawn filled with chair, blankets, cameras and telescopes.

“It just seems like a once in a lifetime kind of opportunity,” said Victoria Rosati, who brought her family to Carhenge from Boulder, Colorado. “I’m a teacher and I sort of left my kids back in the classroom without me to see it.”

Elliott Cook from Albuquerque aimed for Alliance because it was the closest spot to home that would see a total eclipse. “I love astronomy. I like knowing mother nature is out there and she’s bigger than us, and to see it with my own eyes,” Cook said.

Before the eclipse, the wind picked up and blew in a few light clouds. But as the moon covered the sun, the sky was clear and the crowd erupted with howls and cheers.

“Absolutely beautiful,” said Cook. “I want it again. Do it again.”

Satisfying Day In Southeast Nebraska

In Falls City, the overcast skies in eastern Nebraska were not part of the plan for the organizers of the party in the town’s business district. Organizers started figuring out the 2017 eclipse was going to be a big deal when the vintage Grand Weaver Hotel began booking rooms two years ago. The owners were just starting its restoration as the reservations came in.

Umbrellas come out on the law of the Richardson County Courthouse. (Photo by Bill Kelly, NET News)

Local old-timers, families with curious kids, and young tourists from as far away as Rochester, New York marked out spots on the Richardson County courthouse lawn. As the first sliver of the moon edged across the sun, everyone seemed to simultaneously tilt their heads back, souvenir safety glasses perched on their noses.

Then the rain started.

The announcer for a local radio station broadcasting on the square was reassuring.

“For those of you visiting from out of state, just deal with it,” he announced over a polka playing in the background. “We have the most bi-polar weather in the country.”

A few minutes later the rain stopped and viewing resumed.

Adrianna Pickett traveled here from Texas. She would not have been satisfied with only 70 percent coverage back on Galveston Island.

“When I saw the map and it showed that Falls City was directly in the path of totality, I knew I had to come,” Pickett said. It helped she also had friends in town to stay with.

Ten miles to the east in Rulo, on the banks of the Missouri River, Wild Bill’s Bar and Grill is usually closed on Monday, but the eclipse was too good of an opportunity for regulars and out of towners to come together and take in the historic cosmic event.

A motorcycle club from Olathe, Kansas enjoys the eclipse at Wild Bill's in Rulo, Nebraska. (Photo by Bill Kelly, NET News)

The circumstances and location made for an interesting mix of customers. A leather-clad motorcycle group out of Olathe, Kansas stood near an investment advisor from Omaha in a white Oxford shirt.

Overcast skies probably cut down the crowd. Over beers and bratwurst, there was plenty of nervous talk about missing the whole thing because of the weather.  As the sky darkened, gaps in the clouds offered gratifying glimpses for customers like Melissa, a social worker who made the 100 mile trip from Omaha.

“It is beautiful, like a beautiful pink nail,” Melissa said, keeping her protected eyes locked on the fading sun. “It is fantastic.”

A couple of regulars, “Magic” Mike Alexander from Dawson and Brian Pawlowski, a former resident from southern Missouri, broadcast live, tongue-in-cheek, updates via Facebook Live. Their voices were often muffled under the welder’s masks they wore.

“Wow. What a deal,” Alexander said. “I ain’t never seen anything like this.” Brad quickly added, “Well, my neck sure hurts.”

As clouds covered the sun and moon and the eerie eclipse darkness settled over the Missouri River, the covered sun played hide and seek. It appeared, then disappeared and reappeared before the sky began to lighten. It was enough, just enough, to satisfy Magic Mike and the crowd at Wild Bill's.

A Night Game In The Middle Of The Day

The Lincoln Saltdogs baseball game went from a day game to a night game for a couple of minutes due to the total solar eclipse. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

The Lincoln Saltdogs' baseball game went from a day game to a night game for a couple of minutes.  Actually, they paused the game for about 15 minutes to allow the crowd to get our their glasses and take in the total solar eclipse.  

"You can't beat that," said Clark Green, who traveled with his wife Shannon from Arkansas to see the eclipse in Lincoln. 

Jessica Knudsen from Minneapolis watched the game and the eclipse with her young daughter. She says her daughter, who was wearing a NASA t-shirt, probably won't remember the eclipse, but she was glad she could share the experience with her anyway.

 

 

Watching The Eclipse at Home(stead)

The sun rises over the clouds at Homestead National Monument near Beatrice. Thousands traveled to the site, considered one of the best places to view the eclipse. (Photo by Dennis Kellogg, NET News)

Thousands of total solar eclipse fans at Homestead National Monument near Beatrice ignored rain and clouds to enjoy Monday’s total black-out along the path of totality through Nebraska. Visitors from all over got there early to stake out their spots and then watched through clouds as the moon crossed over and blocked-out the sun’s light for about two-and-a-half minutes.

Giles Barr traveled from Oxford, England to watch the eclipse in Nebraska and says he wouldn’t have missed it.

Homestead was billed as one of the top viewing locations in Nebraska, and despite the trouble with rain and clouds, many of the amateur astronomers said they were glad they made the trip.  NASA astronomers, the "Ready, Jet, Go" television program, and science television personality Bill Nye were among those on hand. 

Traffic out of Beatrice and in other parts of the state was slow after totality as thousands headed home. 

Smooth Operating at NEMA 

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency's (NEMA) emergency operations center is normally activated for events like tornadoes and floods. But this time it was up and running in advance for the eclipse.

The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency's emergency operations center was activated for Monday's eclipse. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)

 

More than 40 staff from the National Guard, State Patrol, Department of Transportation, National Weather Service and more manned stations in a large room where they could interact with each other, get regular briefings and watch media coverage, weather radar and traffic video on large screens.

The big concern was traffic. Backups were common in the morning heading west from Omaha, south from Grand Island and south to Beatrice. At one point the State Patrol moved drivers who were attempting to stop on the Interstate. Officials also closed packed rest areas in the Grand Island area…some people had set-up on top of rest area shelters.

Timely rains dampened concerns about wildfires caused by cars pulling into grassy area. And air traffic into many small airports went smoothly….in spite of high volume. More than 100 flights into the Beatrice Airport, more than 150 into Alliance, 100 into Grand Island.

NEMA assistant director Bryan Tuma says overall, nothing unexpected happened on eclipse day.

“We anticipated the high traffic volume, and I think even we were a little surprised how heavy the traffic was. But we had the resources in place, although travel may have been difficult in some jurisdictions because of the amount of traffic," Tuma said.  "By and large, we didn’t have any issues. Everybody worked well together, we got the information flowing back and forth as it should, and really led to an effective operation.”

There was at least one serious eclipse-related traffic accident Monday morning in Omaha. According to this Omaha World-Herald article, one Creighton University student was killed and five other people were injured when the driver of a semi truck "failed to notice that traffic had started to slow significantly" and struck other cars on westbound Interstate 80.

 

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