JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — WOW! My second total solar eclipse was everything I hoped for... everything I imagined... & - yes - the countdown is on to the next one!

I’ll briefly go back to 2017. I took in my first ever total solar eclipse - along with Garrett Bedenbaugh & videographer Russ Pyne - in South Carolina. The most precious part of that eclipse was getting to take it all in with my oldest daughter. It was a tremendously long day that capped off a frenzied build-up followed by hurricane Henry hitting Texas little more than a week later followed by Irma hitting Florida then Maria hitting Puerto Rico. It was exhausting yet exhilarating. At the end of the day during a live report for Action News Jax, my daughter & I made a pact that we will see together the next “Great Eclipse” in 2024.

And so here we are! My wife & I began our road trip west from Jacksonville early Saturday reaching our daughter’s apartment early Saturday evening. We had Sunday to “stage” things - get our cameras ready, gas up the car, try to rest & - most importantly - map out our destination for our Ground Zero for the eclipse. That destination was not an easy call given the weather set-up. Clouds were going to be an issue, no doubt. The question came down to where we might have the best chance within a reasonable drive - 6 hours or less - to see totality. Our original plan - going back more than a year! - was Waco, Texas where totality was essentially the longest - more than 4 1/2 minutes - of anywhere in the Lower 48 of the U.S. If need be, I had decided we would go as Uvalde to the southwest... & as far northeast as Paris, Tx. & possibly to Hot Springs, Arkansas. After carefully studying maps, charts & relying on my past experiences in the Southern Plains (I attended college at Oklahoma University)... I decided about 10pm Sunday evening that our goal would be Paris, Texas but Hot Springs was still not off the table.

So at 5:30am Monday we took off from Bryan, Texas headed for Paris - a destination my wife always wanted to visit BUT that was France, not Texas(!). We did meet - & get to talk to - a couple of ladies from Paris, FRANCE!:

The route was highly rural, well east of Dallas (important for traffic considerations) & really very picturesque & - at times - quaint. I knocked out a quick “hit” via phone with Rich Jones at WOKV radio as I frequently tweeted about our road trip. A breakfast stop in Candor, Tx was nice, filling & refreshing.

Then it was on to Paris which we reached by 10am CDT. Skies were cloudy & the town was already bustling. Paris is close to the Oklahoma border & was all decked out for the “Great Eclipse”.

After doing a bit of “sight seeing” - including driving by a replica of the Eiffel Tower - we had decided on a little roadside park we passed roughly 5 - 7 miles south of Paris along state Texas highway 24/19. We arrived by 11:30 am - a full hour before the beginning of the eclipse & more than 2 hours before totality. We set things up under a very overcast sky. I’ll admit I was anxious given the low clouds. I “played” (forecast) enough mixing (wind & warming temps.) of the atmosphere to cause the clouds to “scatter out”. But it was far from a sure thing. As the partial eclipse began, clouds still dominated, & we were only getting brief glimpses of the moon beginning to cross the sun. My daughter: “should we go somewhere else, Dad?”. I contemplated... I studied maps, I looked at satellite data. Then - finally - at about 12:45pm - 1 hour before the total eclipse - I declared “we’re staying put”.

And so it became a waiting game with only brief glimpses of the moon expanding across the sun. Roughly 30-40 folks were at the same roadside park, & I offered eclipse glasses for anyone that needed them. I met a wonderful family from Cedar Rapids, Iowa - a mere 40 miles from where I grew up. They had come to just see the eclipse.

And then - at about 1:15pm - I could see the brightening skies to the south. Low level winds were strong from the south pushing the low clouds quickly northward. I knew that the brightness was headed our way. But for how long? I studied satellite imagery & became more confident & even went up & down the road proclaiming “the clouds will soon clear!” :) And - “like Moses parted the sea” as my wife later said - the skies cleared & it became virtually sunny. By now the moon was covering at least half the sun. The full eclipse began at 1:43pm & would last 4 minutes & 8 seconds at our location which is relatively long by eclipse standards. (Our totality in S. Carolina in ‘17 was only 2 1/2 minutes as the shadow moves between 1,500 & 5,000 mph along the surface of the earth accelerating while approaching the poles with an average width of little more than 115 miles).

We set all our cameras & like a light switch, totality began & daylight suddenly - like a light switch - turned into dusk. And it was as magical as I remembered 7 years earlier. People whooped, gasped, oohed & aahed. We had already decided that we would take pictures for the first 2 minutes or so then simply watch & listen for the last half of totality which is exactly what we did. I had set up a time-lapse on my wife’s i-Phone... I was taking video w/ my own phone... & my daughter was taking pics with our zoom digital camera. We high-fived, hugged & my daughter told me “great forecast, Dad.”. My wife: “Did you make a good call or were we just lucky?”

The crickets chirped, the flowers closed & the corona surrounding the sun was truly magical - a celestial spectacle that is hard to put into words. As a friend on FaceBook said: “Way cooler than I could have imagined. Seen a few partial eclipse but never a total.” Another friend texted me: “It was awesome. We had some high thin clouds, but they were no problem. Totality was amazing.”

For the last 30 seconds or so, my wife, daughter & I stood in a row arms around one another & just watched. It was powerful & memorable.

And so the countdown begins to the next “Great American Solar Eclipse” in 2045 (a Saturday in mid August) - a little less than 8,000 days away (there will be a total eclipse over parts of Alaska in 2033 & over parts of N. Dakota & Montana in 2044)! I cannot emphasize it enough - no matter what you *think* your interest might be - a total *solar* eclipse is a “must see”. You will not be disappointed. It is quite literally “other-worldly”.

Here’s hoping to see you when the next total eclipse includes much of Florida for the first time since 1970 (95%+ eclipsed over Jacksonville). And - if not - well... I have no regrets :).

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