April 8, 2024

“This isn’t going the way I want it to.”

It was 10 AM and I was sitting on our couch with my head in my hands waiting for the GOES satellite feed to update on my laptop, desperate for good news. But as the latest image loaded, the reality of the situation was quickly sinking in.

I probably won’t be seeing the solar eclipse today.



For weeks I’d been anxiously following weather climatology models, watching and hoping the cloud predictions would change. I became an overnight expert in the differences and discrepancies in the GFS, Canadian, NOAA, NOAA HRRR, and European models and how to read them. Sometimes they would show a clearing at 3 PM, but then the next model would run and we’d be socked in with clouds.

Maybe it was blind optimism, maybe it was denial, but I was hopeful that the Buffalo Luck™ would change and we’d have clear weather for the eclipse, the first in Buffalo since 1925 and the last one over the Queen City until the year 2144.

My children won’t see it. Their children likely won’t see it. My great-grandchildren might see it.

Fittingly, Saturday was cloudless and clear, a day that had forecasted clouds all day, and Sunday was clear as well. Maybe they would be wrong about Monday?

Turns out they were wrong. I woke up to a horizon-to-horizon of thick, overcast clouds, worse than predicted, and I immediately knew that the eclipse I had envisioned for nearly a decade was likely not going to be visible. I labored over GOES satellite imagery, updating every 5–10 mins, measuring the line of clouds breaking along the other end of Lake Erie with my finger and doing some rudimentary math to try and convince myself that maybe if it kept a constant speed it would travel just fast enough and get to Buffalo minutes before totality. The margins were razor-thin.



Some local weather folks on Twitter were tentatively optimistic. Others had left and were already in Ohio. If the situation was different, I’d already be on the road. But Patrick and Kim had come to stay with us just for the eclipse, Miranda was not feeling well, Mom & Dad weren’t interested, and Uncles Dave & Mike didn’t seem like they were going. I’d resigned myself that I’d be experiencing The Buffalo Eclipse, whatever that would entail.

This was near the worst-case eclipse scenario for me. I knew that, should the weather not cooperate, there would be a decision or series of decisions laid out in front of me that would ultimately lead me to see the eclipse or miss it.

So here I was, after all of the time I spent worrying what I would do should come to fruition, it was happening. And I didn’t know what to do.

I did know I needed to make a decision that would have very tangible consequences. I knew I needed to make that decision soon. And I knew this moment was important. I would never have this easy of an opportunity to see a total solar eclipse again in my lifetime. Seeing future totalities in the coming decade would mean traveling to Iceland, Spain, Egypt, or wait and find another spot in the US in 2045. Even then, I’d still have to labor over clouds, position, weather, and forecast models. I couldn’t go through this again. It was here. It was now. I was this close. If I could guarantee I’d see totality and it would only cost me a couple of hours in the car, why the hell not?

Conversely, I felt terrible. I didn’t want to leave everyone here, especially Miranda. We’d talked about enjoying the experience together but I knew she wasn’t up for a day in the car. After expressing my reservations she was more than supportive. It wasn’t nearly as important to her, and she said “You won’t see it with me either way. Either you stay home and don’t see it with me, or you go without me and see it without me.” She encouraged me, again, to go.

After some deliberation, a lot of internal back and forth, and time to try to clear my mind waiting for the next GOES update, I made the decision. I was going. It was 11:39.

I quickly pulled my camera gear together, filled my water bottle, and thought to give everyone one more opportunity to come. Patrick and Kim were fine staying back and hedging bets on the clouds clearing. So I called home. Mom answered and I told her I had decided to go and wanted to see if Dad was interested. She said he was sleeping, I said okay, we exchanged pleasantries and she wished me luck. I continued to get ready and was just heading out the door when Dad called back to ask if I was going. Mom had gone and woken him up. I said I was and I was about to leave. I offered to pick him up, I heard Mom in the background telling him to go, and he relented. We were going. I cleaned out the car, packed up, filled the gas tank, and picked up Dad. He came out with supplies: turkey sandwiches Mom made, chips, cookies, water bottles, a gross of eclipse glasses, and his electronic provisions. We were on the road just before noon.

The clouds were still wall-to-wall overcast, not the high-level cirrus and maybe some mid-level alto-cumulus with breaks for the eclipse to peek through that we were promised. Dad and I lamented how all the forecasts got this one so wrong. We were both very stressed and I was definitely on the manic spectrum, but by the time we got on the thruway I felt a little music would calm us down, so I put on my Genesis Duke playlist. The fanfare of “Behind The Lines” signaled the beginning of our road trip.

I didn’t know where we were going, just that we’d go down the 90 until we hit blue skies. I dialed in Ashtabula, OH on my GPS as an estimate to gauge our distance and time. Ashtabula was where the line of clouds was when we left, so I knew that would be a safe bet on where to aim for. We had just enough time to get to the Ohio/PA line as the partial eclipse would have started, which then gave us another hour or so to get situated for totality.

Dad and I braced for traffic that never materialized. We’d all heard the horror stories of six-hour traffic jams in 2017. Local news and politicians had warned for months that Buffalo was expecting over a million visitors for the eclipse day, effectively doubling the region’s population. But the thruway was fine, no worse than any other day. We theorized that the people who cared to travel for the eclipse saw the weather and had already made different arrangements, of those who were here only a small percentage cared enough to travel elsewhere to see the totality, and of that smaller percentage most would care enough to have left hours early, not just as the window of opportunity was closing.

Looking around, it seemed like those who were on the thruway were just like us: people in their cars scrambling, frantically checking phones to figure out where to go.



The skies didn’t change. Gray as far as we could see in every direction with zero breaks. We both talked about how we felt bad for leaving our wives behind as we both would have preferred to have a shared experience of the eclipse, but the odds of seeing it at home were near zero. It was important to me, and I think to Dad, to go for the much higher chance of seeing it than an almost guarantee of nothing at all.

We got to the NY/PA line still socked in with clouds. Duke ended and I put on A Momentary Lapse of Reason as I’ve gotten into a Pink Floyd mood c/o the impending eclipse. It wasn’t until we got to just before Erie that Dad finally spotted some blue skies on the horizon. Salvation!



Still no traffic, we passed Erie and the clouds cleared considerably quickly as we’d seen on the satellite.

Dad had been periodically checking GOES on his phone and we’d gotten a heads-up from Mike about clouds filling in behind the clearing. We also noticed that the line seemed to stall out around Erie. With the advancing line stopped and the clearing behind disappearing, this wasn’t going to be as simple as “get to blue sky and you’re home free” as we first thought.

With this knowledge and currently clear skies above us, we pulled off the 90 at Exit 9 near Platea. Knowing about the trailing clouds, I had figured there would be a non-zero chance we’d have to double back East, so I headed off the onramp to an empty lot within view of the thruway so we could get right back on in the direction we needed to go with limited interference or delay.



We were not the only ones with the idea. Several cars and an 18-wheeler pulled off and into the lot minutes after we arrived. Dad and I got out, I set up my camera and had some quick calls home just as the partial eclipse started. It was 2:01 PM.



I was literally bouncing with nervous energy. I couldn’t stand still. Dad interacted with some of our fellow lot dwellers. I looked all around, I took a few photos of the Sun with a minimal Moon bite out of it. A sunspot was visible.



By about 2:20 the foretold clouds were coming. Dad and I strategized, checked the GOES satellite feed, and tried to figure out our move. I clocked a guy with Texas plates pulling out and heading East on the 90; that should have been a sign. I proposed we wait until 2:45/2:50 and maybe make a last-ditch effort to move East. It was only a few minutes longer until the clouds really started coming in thick and fast with more on the way. That was it, we made the decision to bug out. It was 2:30.

We threw our stuff in the car and got back on the 90, heading back the way we came. Dad had his window open and was telling me what he was seeing behind us. Clouds, lots of clouds, and they were forming fast. With a patch of blue sky just ahead of us to the East, we were in hot pursuit. I kept saying “We need to get this patch of sky behind us.” At one point Dad looked out the window and we both heard a clink — he’d forgotten he had his glasses on and they were blown off his face and out of the car. We got off at the next exit to get our bearings in the sky but didn’t even stop, we knew we needed to keep going. The following exit was the 79 interchange. That would let us get closer to the lake and hopefully in some thermal shadow from the large body of water which might help with the clouds. We agreed and kept going.

Things were starting to feel intense. By the time we got onto 79 North the sky was getting noticeably darker. Time was ticking. I had my Solar Eclipse Timer app activated on my phone and got a ding. I looked at the time on the dashboard, it was 2:46. Thirty minutes to totality. The Sun was now over my left shoulder, I was doing my best to gauge where it was, what the clouds were doing, where the clearings were, and where we should go next. All while avoiding other cars because we weren’t the only ones on 79 North. There were a half dozen cars around us with varying license plates, speeding down the road trying to find clear skies and a place to park. A guy on a speed bike weaved in and out of traffic. I looked at Dad at one point and couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the moment we’d found ourselves in. “This is kind of crazy!” “Yeah, I feel like we’re chasing a tornado!”

79 North ended and we were into Erie. Cars lined every parking lot, gas station, and street. Everyone had their glasses on, collectively looking to the skies. It was a little unsettling. There were still blue skies ahead of us and it seemed the closer to the lake the clearer it was. We got to an intersection with a park and a large crowd. They were playing The Dark Side of The Moon over a large PA system, “Us And Them” to be specific. I was trying not to look at the time to keep my anxiety in check but I figured they had probably timed the album to end at totality. The love for my favorite album gave the secret away — I knew we didn’t have long.

We continued on past the park and at this point I was looking for anywhere to stop. Time was dwindling and the last thing I wanted was to pull over on the side of the road, or worse, miss it. We went under an overpass and saw an office building and a parking lot with a lot of empty spaces. This was it. I pulled in and noticed cops blocking the entrance. Shit. I went to turn around but noticed the back entrance was unguarded. Jackpot.



We pulled in, got out of the car, set up my camera, and took a photo of the crescent Sun. I propped my phone up and opened the timer app. It was 2:59.



The sky wasn’t completely clear but it wasn’t bad. There were some higher-level cirrus that weren’t obscuring the eclipse, but a line of alto-cumulus gave Dad and me some trepidation as we watched it approach, cover, and thankfully move on from the Sun. My phone dinged. It was 3:11.

“Five minutes to second contact.”

I realized I hadn’t updated the GPS in the app for our new location so I recalibrated and loaded our new times. Totality here would be arriving 21 seconds later than at our first stop and last four seconds longer.

I double-checked my camera settings, my f-stop couldn’t go as low as I previously thought so I used my iPad to re-calculate my desired settings. I grabbed a pen and a scrap of paper from the car and scribbled down my planned settings so I could view them better at a glance during totality.

“Three minutes to second contact.”

It was getting darker. It felt like I had a filter over my eyes. My heart was racing. I felt noticeably colder so I put on the NASA hoodie Miranda just bought me at Kennedy Space Center. The denser clouds cleared with nothing behind them. I looked at Dad and excitedly smiled. “We did it.”

“Two minutes to second contact.”

I could feel the awe in the crowd building. Cheers were starting to break out. I could smell that someone nearby lit a joint. It got darker. I looked at the Sun through my camera viewfinder, it was just a sliver now. I took another photo.



“One minute to second contact. Prepare to remove solar filters.”

I could see the line of the Moon’s shadow approaching in the cirrus clouds on the horizon.

This was it. This was real. It was happening.

The magic moment to safely remove the filter on my camera was 25 seconds before totality. The app counted down in 10-second increments for the final minute. As soon as I heard “30 seconds” I counted and removed my filter, focused my camera, and started snapping. The first thing I saw was the diamond ring through the viewfinder.

“5- 4- 3- 2- 1-  Second Contact.”



“HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT!” My brain broke and that was all I was able to say. There was cheering everywhere. Dad yelled. I’m pretty sure I screamed. I could not comprehend what I was seeing or how it materialized. I’d always thought, for some reason, that the corona would sort of fade in as totality started. But it was like flipping a switch. It wasn’t there and then it was. Literal night and day in the blink of an eye. Dave had said that photos don’t do it justice, that it can’t get the scale right. And he was correct. It was so much larger than I had imagined. The corona extending so far past the Moon was impressive.

I knew what I was looking at, but I couldn’t believe it.

Fireworks were going off at the park we’d passed, and elsewhere in the city. I wasn’t expecting that.

“What the hell are those red things?” I heard Dad ask. I thought I was seeing things, but they were there. Tiny little red spots dotted sticking out from behind the Moon. I looked into my camera. They were solar prominences. I could see solar eruptions with my own eyes. I took a photo and excitedly told Dad to come see for himself.



I took a few more pictures and then looked around. Dad and I snapped a selfie with the totality behind us. The 360° twilight was unreal and beautiful. I grabbed a panorama from our location. Streetlights had come on. Confused birds were chirping as if it was nightfall. It felt like a summer twilight.




“Max Eclipse”

We were halfway through already. Okay. Walk away from the camera and enjoy this. Do everything you can to sear this moment into your memory. You will tell your children about this someday.

I looked up and stared at the totality, lost in the unnatural beauty. I always figured I would cry at totality, but when the moment came I found myself too awestruck to feel emotion. I couldn’t form complete thoughts. It was pure, distilled, amazement. I’ve never felt anything like it.

My two remaining functional synapses accidentally connected and I began to string thoughts together. In what was easily one of the most exciting experiences of my life, in this exact moment of clarity what I felt most was brokenhearted. In this moment of sheer joy, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I thought about everyone we’d left behind in Buffalo. I mostly thought of Miranda. I wondered what she was seeing at this exact second. I was hoping by some miracle they were able to see something and share the same sense of wonder. I was so sad she wasn’t here with me to experience this and share in this euphoria.

“One minute to C3.”

That snapped me back.

I have to get the diamond ring – the moment just before and after totality when the sun peeks out behind the moon – that’s the money shot, the one that I had to get from this whole event, the one that would make this worth it.

I had practiced for this moment with my DSLR over the previous few weeks, switching the exposure settings from what I needed during totality to what I needed coming back into the light. It wasn’t complicated, but I wasn’t sure of the mind space I’d be in on the day and didn’t want to leave anything to chance. My preparedness worked, muscle memory set in, I and adjusted to my pre-determined camera settings without incident.

I looked toward the horizon. Just as I’d seen the Moon’s shadow approaching into totality, I could now see a wall of light coming our way.



Okay, here we go. I got the totality in the viewfinder and hit the lock on my cable remote, enabling my camera to snap one image per second.

Click, click, click-

I looked up and saw the first rays of light from the Sun peering over the lower righthand side of the Moon.



“Third Contact.”

The kept camera rolling.

“Plus 25 Seconds — Solar filters and glasses on.”

I unlocked the cable remote and looked at the photos for a split second. I got it.

Dad and I looked at each other again. We smiled, shook hands, and said “Let’s go.” It was 3:20.

I threw all of my stuff into the car. As I got in the driver’s seat my phone buzzed — Miranda sent me a pic of totality and Venus through the clouds. I couldn’t believe it! She saw it!!



It was still that weird muted dark, I think people may have just put their glasses back on. But we didn’t want any chance of getting stuck in traffic. Others had the idea as well, things were breaking up fast. In a flash, we were back on 79. We made it a few miles before I remembered that I’d taken my wallet and sunglasses out during totality and tossed them in the open trunk. We pulled off so I could get them we were back on the road. We called Mom and Miranda for initial reports from back home. Both had confirmed they saw the totality through the clouds. I was so excited Miranda saw it but gutted I wasn’t there with her.

We got to 90, and still no traffic. I don’t remember talking a lot. We may have but I’m fairly sure I was still in shock. It took some time before I thought of the only way to bring us down from the high — putting on The Dark Side of The Moon. A fitting coda for the day. I had initially planned and timed it to play at our house, syncing the end of Eclipse with, what else, the moment of totality. While that plan didn’t pan out, a celebratory listen wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

It was at this point I felt an emotion I wasn’t expecting: immense, overwhelming relief. Confused, I thought for a second and realized that I’d been waiting for this day for the better part of a decade. I marked the date in my calendar app on the day of the 2017 eclipse. “April in Buffalo? Oh, we’re never going to see it.”

For the last few weeks, I’d poured over data. I trained myself how to read charts and forecast maps, and bookmarked a dozen or so websites with varying degrees of the same data sets. I was active on the subreddit r/solareclipse and created a specific weather-centric follower list on Twitter to keep tabs on up-to-the-minute information. I would count down until the next weather models are refreshed and check them immediately. Grocery stores, sitting in meetings at work, out to dinner, watching TV at home; I was always on my phone looking at data. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and check my phone for the latest updates, desperate for an inclination of good news. Outside of initial reports, it never trended positively. Always two steps forward, three steps back. The worse it would get, the more desperate I would be for any shred of hope. I joked online and with friends that I had lost what little sanity I had left, but it wasn’t much of an exaggeration. I was obsessed; it consumed my life. I needed to see the eclipse. And now, finally, I didn’t need to manically check the weather, I didn’t need to worry what cloud base layer would be overhead at 18Z on 08 April 2024.

It was over.



The drive back was uneventful. The prophesied traffic apocalypse never happened. At one point I realized I hadn’t eaten yet that day and asked to have one of the sandwiches Mom made.

Paranoid I’d lose my photos to some unknown technological malfeasance, I reached back to grab my camera and lock the memory card. It was then that I saw the focus switch on my zoom lens was set to manual. I panicked. Did I remember to focus the camera after removing the solar filter? Everything happened so fast. I couldn’t be sure. It was gnawing at me. I needed to know if I royally screwed up and didn’t get a single shot. At first, I tried to get it out of my mind but I couldn’t shake it. My stomach turned at the thought of not getting a single clear photo. My mind was racing. I needed to know.

I voiced my concerns to Dad and he asked if I would like to pull over and check. “Very much so.” We got off the next exit at Silver Creek, pulled into the first lot I could find, a True Value, frantically grabbed my camera, and zoomed in on a photo. It was clear and crisp. I had focused the lens, a massive relief. While we were off we had a quick pee break, another first of the day, at a Burger King and went back on the road.

We arrived back in Buffalo and I dropped Dad off at 5:30, returning home not long after that. I got inside and hugged Miranda and we talked about our differing experiences. They had a cloud break just in time to catch totality, even if through a base. They got lucky, not everyone else in Buffalo was able to see it. Many only saw clouds. I apologized to Miranda that I wasn’t here but she assured me they had a good time and were happy they got to see it. Patrick and Kim got back from a brief shopping trip and we talked about their experience. Patrick summed it up as “It was good enough for us but wouldn’t have been good enough for you.” I felt assured that I’d made the right decision.

What a wild 6 hours of my life.