TORRINGTON – Last week that Goshen County Commissioners got an update from Goshen County Emergency Manager Shelly Kirchhefer on preparations for the 2107 Solar Eclipse, whose path will transect the county on Monday, Aug. 21 at approximately 11:47 a.m.
As the county’s emergency manager, Kirchhefer explained that her focus was on preparing for the safety of county residents and visitors who will visit the county in order to experience the eclipse. “We are hoping for the best, but planning for the worst,” she told the commissioners.
But there is another side of the solar eclipse experience that seasoned eclipse chaser Dr. Kate Russo, who lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland, believes Goshen County residents should look forward to and embrace.
“It’s very hard to communicate to someone who hasn’t seen (a total eclipse), what a big deal this is,” Russo explained. “And it’s not just a big deal to scientists. Everybody can enjoy a total solar eclipse.”
Many people may have experienced a partial eclipse, she said, but that is nothing like what is in store for viewers in August.
“A total eclipse is very dramatic and very immersive,” Russo said, trying to explain what to expect when viewing a total solar eclipse for the first time. “It does go quite dark, and it happens very rapidly. Its dark enough to see planets and the brightest stars above you.
“It is quite intense. The temperature drops and it becomes very eerie and very otherworldly. So it is an unusual experience, very unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.”
It is obvious the Australian native is very passionate about chasing solar eclipses, and there are hundreds, maybe thousands more like her across the globe, so many in fact they have their own honorific; umbraphile, an avid observer of eclipses.
“There is a solar eclipse that crosses the earth somewhere, about every 18 months,” Russo pointed out. “I’ve seen 10, but it’s taken 18 years out of my life chasing eclipses. But, in any one location on earth, if you didn’t travel, you would have to wait an average of 375 years to see a total solar eclipse.
“So it really is true that it is a once in a lifetime experience. So you guys living in Torrington, Wyo., happen to be living at the right place at the right time with the path of totality coming right over you.
“There are somethings in life that you actually have to experience to completely understand it. No picture or story can actually make it come alive and the solar eclipse is one of those, but on a massive scale. So you need to make the most of
When it comes to chasing solar eclipses, Russo piles up the frequent flier miles. The most exotic place she has seen a total eclipse was Outer Mongolia, in a location where there were no roads and it took days of overland travel to get to the right spot. Then there was her chase to Madagascar, where she traveled with remote tribes in dugout canoes for several days to get to the point of totality. Definitely umbraphile-type behavior.
Her most remote trip, however, took her 1600 miles off the west coast of South America, 800 miles further than the Galapagos Islands where the ship she shared with 80 other eclipse chasers sat outside normal shipping lanes and didn’t even have satellite communication for five days.
“I’ve even had the experience in 2012, of the path of totality going through my home region in Australia, passing through Queensland. So I know what its like when the path of totality passes through your home.”
But there is one thing about this year’s eclipse that sets it apart from all the others, she said. “Out of all my years of chasing, this will be the most accessible view of totality I’ve ever had.
“So I’ve been encouraging people for may years to visit the U.S. during this eclipse. You can expect eclipse fever to hit about two weeks before the actual event as visitors begin to show up and news coverage begins.
“In my experience, a total solar eclipse is the biggest event to ever happen in every community it passes through.”
Since the eclipse is unavoidable, can’t be postponed or moved, Russo suggests that those of us living near the eclipse turn it into a celebration, something to be shared with family, friends and visitors to the community.
“People need to make (the eclipse) special because you are going to remember it for the rest of your life. And the way to make it special is to have loved ones around you.
“Its nice to have three generation around you, to share it with kids and grandkids, to make it unique and special.”
As for Russo’s plans for August 21, she is hoping to celebrate the event in Grand Teton National Park, where the eclipse first begins its voyage across the Cowboy State.
“There is something that really connects us through an eclipse. Religion, culture, background or color of your skin become irrelevant.
“The eclipse experience builds bridges and brings people together. That is why it is a big deal.”