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Total Solar Eclipse Report - April 2024 - Waco, USA

Mike Frost 12.jpg

Our thanks to Mike Frost​ for this report from the Heart Of Texas Equestrian Academy (HOTEA), Valley Mills, Waco, Texas, USA - Mike travels regularly with Astro Trails as one of our tour leaders and expert lecturers.  He has recently been a contributer to the book Eclipse and Revelation (Total Solar Eclipses in Science, History, Literature, and the Arts) which can be purchased via this link

Seven years ago, in August 2017, I travelled to Oregon, in the western United States, and saw a solar eclipse from the confluence of the Burnt River and Snake River, on the Oregon/Idaho border. The “Great American Eclipse” caught the imagination of many people in America. Those who had seen it wanted to see more; those who hadn’t wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Seven years later, these people got their wish. On April 8th 2024, the track of a second total eclipse crossed the North American continent, from Mexico to Newfoundland, with a large swath of the United States in the middle. By 2024, I had become a guest astronomer for Astro-Trails. The company, looking at average cloud cover across North America, offered two viewing sites; Torreon in central Mexico and Waco in central Texas. Torreon had the best weather prospects of anywhere in North America and 750 people signed up for tours which visited there for the eclipse. Central Texas had the best prospects for the USA and a further 220 people selected tours through Waco. I was their guest astronomer.

Our base was the southern Texan city of San Antonio. This is best known as the site of The Alamo, the mission station which was the site of a battle between troops of Mexico and troops defending the Republic of Texas. The city also boasts a fine cathedral, on which, several evenings a week, a light show is projected illustrating the history of the city. In recent years, the city has developed “river walks” along the rivers which flow through downtown, and there is a thriving tourist trail, with flat-boat tours and busy restaurants.

We had beautiful sunny weather most of our time in San Antonio, but as eclipse day neared, a weather front arrived from the west, bringing lots of clouds (this front also affected Torreon). The front passed overnight the night before the eclipse; but then stalled and came back towards us. As eclipse day dawned, prospects did not look great.

Unfortunately, with such a large number of people to transport, we had no option but to go with our planned observing site. One or two people hired cars for the day, so that they could chase holes in the cloud. One or two more decided to stay at their hotels, still inside the zone of totality. We asked everyone who wasn’t planning on coming to let us know, so that we had the right number of people on the buses.

Our observing site was the Heart of Texas Equestrian Academy, to the north-west of Waco, on the road to Valley Mills. It was about a mile south-east of the centre line, but we still expected to see 4 minutes and 23 seconds of totality, weather permitting. The site was a beautiful rural setting, at the top of a gentle rise, in rolling country. Waco is on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, which in spring is renowned for the flowers, and indeed we had admired many natural floral displays on the roadside verges en route from San Antonio to Waco. Most noticeable on the HOTEA grounds were the bluebonnets.

Jennifer, the owner of the Academy, was delighted to see us. She told us that when the initial approach was made to hire the academy for the day, she thought it was a spoof. But once she realised that both the eclipse and the tour party were for real, she threw herself into organising a Texan welcome for us. More-or-less the entire grounds, several large paddocks, were open to us. The only areas off-limits were some trees and a large woodpile, because this was where the rattlesnakes lived. Our coaches were parked along the dirt tracks which ran through the academy; far enough away not to spoil the views, but close enough to provide shelter in case of rain or excessive sunshine. The horses had been moved into indoor stables, barring those on which Jennifer and the rest of the staff rode round to check everything was OK. We had straw bales to sit on, and Jennifer’s daughter Katelyn and friends were in charge of cooking refreshments; pulled-pork or veggie sandwiches, delivered if required on horseback. “Uber-Eats Texan style”.

As for the weather… well, it didn’t rain. But nor was it very sunny. On arrival, cloud cover was close to continuous, but as the morning progressed, gaps began to appear. First contact, the start of the eclipse, was at 12:20. We were able to monitor the progress of the Moon’s limb across the Sun, intercepting a large sunspot in the progress. However, as the limb began to approach the other side of the Sun, both slipped behind a large cloud.

It was very frustrating. There was clear sky just below the cloud, but it wasn’t clear which direction the wind was running in, so no guarantee that the cloud would move out of the way. Then, five minutes before totality, the Sun emerged from behind the cloud, into clear skies.

Totality began at 13:37. I stood in the middle of the group and called out the countdown to second contact. I had a large piece of white cardboard on the ground next to me and clearly saw shadow bands flitting across in the thirty seconds leading up to totality. The last Bailey’s bead winked out and we were into totality.

 The solar corona was spiky, to be expected at solar maximum. But outer detail wasn’t clear because there was still some high cirrus and a little haze. More immediately obvious were the prominences, especially the huge prominence which appeared at 6 o’clock, clearly visible to the naked eye. Venus was clearly visible throughout totality; Jupiter was marginal because of the cloud; I didn’t even try to find the comet. The horizon was too cloudy to see any colour effects.

Totality was long, but it’s well known that all total eclipses only seem to last thirty seconds, so all too soon the diamond ring flashed brightly and totality was over. I don’t have a strong memory of the shadow departing, though others spoke of it flying across the clouds. There were more fleeting shadow bands in the thirty seconds after third contact.

The weather continued to improve during the latter stages of the eclipse, so we enjoyed a largely sunny Texas afternoon (the temperature rose into the high twenties degrees C; pleasant and not too hot). All too soon it was time to scan everyone on to the buses – one of my charges was missing, but she turned up on another bus – and head back to Waco. Despite being exhausted I managed to catch a taxi into town for a debrief/celebration with the other guides. We were happy we had managed to get everyone to the right place at the right time, and ecstatic that we had got lucky with the clouds.


The next day Texas saw torrential rain. Who cares!

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