Jake Magee
An animation of what the eclipse will look like in the Janesville area. (Image courtesy Vox.com)

Residents heading south to watch total solar eclipse

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Jake Magee
Sunday, August 20, 2017

JANESVILLE—Scott Weberpal has been anticipating Monday's solar eclipse for decades.

As a second-grader at Milton East Elementary School, Weberpal read a book about the sun and solar eclipses.

Nearly 30 years later, the Whitewater resident is preparing to travel several hours just to watch the moon blot out the sun for a little more than two minutes.

On Monday, everyone in the contiguous United States will be able to see the moon pass at least partially in front of the sun. Those in a narrow section running from coast to coast, from Oregon to South Carolina, will be able to see the moon completely cover the sun in what's known as a total solar eclipse.

This will be the first time since 1979 a total eclipse will be visible from the United States. A total solar eclipse crossing from one coast of the country to the other hasn't occurred since 1918.

Weberpal has reserved two hotel rooms—one in Grand Island, Nebraska, and one in Marian, Illinois—for almost a year in preparation for this rare celestial event. When he sets out today, he'll figure out which state will have better weather Monday and cancel the other hotel room.

Weberpal's planning has paid off. Prices for hotel rooms in the path of totality have skyrocketed since he booked his rooms last August, he said.

The Wiskia brothers, on the other hand, are winging their trip to see the eclipse.

Locals Aaron, Kevin and Ryan Wiskia will drive to Nashville, Tennessee, today, see some sights and enjoy the nightlife. They'll wake up Monday, watch the eclipse and head back.

Most hotels in the area were filled, but they managed to book an open room. They still don't know if they'll watch the eclipse at one of the many events in the area or go hiking to witness it in the solitude of nature.

The brothers wanted to spend more time together in Nashville, but their work schedules didn't cooperate. They have to head home not long after the eclipse, they said.

"The sun and moon can line up but not our schedules," Aaron said.

Weberpal bought solar eclipse glasses that block almost all light. They're necessary to protect your eyes until the moon completely covers the sun. Weberpal even has solar filters for his camera lenses so they don't get damaged when he takes photos.

The Wiskias haven't been able to find eclipse glasses. They're hoping they'll find Nashville vendors selling them Monday.

Some vendors have tried to cash in by selling fake eclipse glasses, which could damage people's eyes. Amazon has issued refunds to customers who accidentally bought phony glasses, according to The Verge media site.

Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay is hosting a viewing of the eclipse, though it won't be a total eclipse this far north. In Rock and Walworth counties, the sun will block out about 85 percent of the sun, said administrative specialist Brittnay Struble.

Telescopes with solar filters will be set up on the observatory's lawn, and a livestream of the total solar eclipse will be shown. With more than 700 residents signed up, the event has sold out, as has the observatory's stock of eclipse glasses, Struble said.

UW-Whitewater also will host an eclipse viewing at its observatory. Eclipse glasses will be available to share, according to a news release.

Unless you're in the path of totality, eclipse glasses are vital. Even an eclipse that covers 99 percent of the sun releases enough sunlight to damage the naked eye, Struble said.

"No matter what, looking at the sun is dangerous," she said. "Even the smallest amount, you still need to wear (eclipse glasses)."

Travelers likely will run into traffic. Struble said Monday's traffic will be the busiest of the year, second only to the day before Thanksgiving.

For Weberpal, it'll be worth it. Even 99 percent doesn't compare to a total eclipse because the sun will still be too bright, he said.

"Totality or bust," he said.

An estimated 700,000 to 1.7 million people are expected to visit the path of totality. Those who live in small towns within the path are being advised to get their grocery shopping and other errands done in advance, Weberpal said.

For those lucky enough to reach the path of totality without encountering cloudy weather, it will be safe to remove eclipse glasses for the 2 minutes the moon completely covers the sun.

That's when things get weird.

Obviously, it will get dark. Venus, Jupiter, Mercury and bright stars will become visible, Weberpal said.

Surrounding the silhouette of the moon will be tendrils of plasma from the sun's corona, which is its outer atmosphere, he said.

Birds will think it is nighttime and stop chirping. The temperature will drop suddenly.

But the sky won't be the only thing worth watching. Other viewers' expressions of wonder and amazement will be treats, too, Weberpal said.

Some people get so hooked on solar eclipses that they travel to distant countries—and even remote places—to watch them, he said.

They're called "umbraphiles," Kevin Wiskia said.

When asked why they're willing to travel so far to witness a two-minute total eclipse, Weberpal and the Wiskia brothers had similar answers.

Kevin said seeing a total eclipse is on his bucket list. Driving to Nashville with his brothers to witness one will be an adventure he won't forget.

"That's all he talks about, day in and day out. He has dreams about it," Ryan said.

"I almost think of it as a historical event," Aaron said, "something that we'll never see again."

Weberpal has two words for the spectacle: "Pure bliss."

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