The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States since 1918 put on quite a show in the Grande Ronde Valley and across Oregon today.
The shadow — a corridor just 60 to 70 miles wide — came ashore in Oregon and then began racing diagonally across the continent to South Carolina, with darkness lasting only two to three minutes in any one spot.
“It was eerily quiet and dusky at the peak of the eclipse,” Theresa Eggum Kirby, who said she watched the eclipse from the patio of her La Grande home with family visiting from Montana, said via Facebook. “However, I was expecting it to get a little darker. We really enjoyed the shadows and felt the (temperature) get almost 5 degrees cooler. Glad we had clear skies and glasses to see the transitions.”
In La Grande, spectators watched the moon cover 99.5 percent of the sun. The moon began to cross the sun at 9:09 a.m., with the peak of the eclipse occurring at 10:24 a.m. and ending at 11:46 a.m. When the eclipse reached its peak, the temperature had noticeably dropped a few degrees and blocked enough of the sun’s light to turn daylight into a unique half-twilight.
“I have great sympathy for ancient people who didn’t know how the system worked,” said Bertha Thompson, an employee at Red Cross Drug Store in downtown La Grande. “It must have been terrifying, looking up and seeing the sun going away.”
According to the National Weather Service in Pendleton, the temperature at the La Grande/Union County Airport dropped three degrees — from 68 degrees at 10 a.m. to 65 degrees at 10:45 a.m.
The Earth, moon and sun line up perfectly every one to three years, briefly turning day into night across a sliver of the planet. But these sights normally are in no man’s land, like the vast Pacific Ocean or Earth’s poles. This is the first eclipse of the social media era to pass through such a heavily populated area.
The moon hasn’t thrown this much shade at the U.S. since 1918, during the country’s last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse. In fact, the U.S. mainland hasn’t seen a total solar eclipse since Feb. 26, 1979 — and even then, only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.
“I’m glad I live where I live,” said Anthony Cradduck, who was enjoying a day off to view the eclipse in front of the Longbranch Bar & Eats in downtown La Grande. “I don’t have to change my life around it.”
The next eclipse in our area will be a partial eclipse Aug. 12, 2045, as the path of totality goes through Northern California and Nevada. According to maps on eclipsewise.com, Northeast Oregon won’t experience another eclipse in the path of totality until June 30, 2345. The next solar eclipse in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024, and it will be visible from Texas to New England. More total eclipses in the U.S. will follow in 2044, 2045 and 2078.
Oregon’s chance to see the eclipse was something special for many in the Grande Ronde Valley.
“I think it’s really cool,” said Brenna Miller, an employee at Bella Merchantile, who took time to go outside to see the eclipse. “I’m excited La Grande is in 90-percent totality. It’s nifty.”
Summerville resident Howard Richardson said on a Facebook post that even without the benefit of totality, the event was “awesome.”
“It may not have been total in our location but it was cool to see the crescent tree shadows and the wavy shadows on the ground,” the Oregon Department of transportation employee said.
Union County resident Trina Lankford said the eclipse did cause some confusion — for at least one creature.
“We did have one poor rooster who was convinced it was bedtime and spent the time unsuccessfully attempting to get the hens into the chicken coop to roost for the night,” she said on a Facebook post. “Poor guy.”
The closest area to watch the eclipse reach 100 percent totality was Baker City, where about a thousand people showed up at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center for the historic event.
Jason Yencopal, Baker County’s emergency management director, said traffic flowed smoothly, with the exception of crowds lined up along Highway 86 east of Baker City to get to the Interpretive Center. Yencopal said much of the traffic Monday has been along Interstate 84 between Baker City and Huntington.
He estimated that 250 cars were parked in the Lime area, about four miles west of Huntington and at least 300 cars at and near the Weatherby Rest Area about five miles east of Durkee.
The increase in the number of people traveling to see the eclipse did not cause any major issues in Eastern Oregon on Interstate 84 or state highways, according to ODOT spokesman Tom Strandberg.
“There were a few minor issues but nothing major,” he said.
He said that since last Wednesday, traffic hasn’t been impeded by any accidents, motorists running out of fuel or broken-down cars.
Strandberg said that as people began to leave the area of totality, traffic appeared to be moving smoothly. He said this may reflect the fact that visitors listened to ODOT’s advice to wait until Tuesday to travel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.