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Report on the Total Solar Eclipse of 1999 Aug 11

by Raymond Brooks (near Strasbourg, France)

A Meeting of Five

I didn't think an eclipse could be more picturesque than 1994 watching snow capped peaks 50 miles away in the Peruvian Andes blink off and on with the passing shadow.Or more tense than in 1979 in Montana with a broken engine outside the southern limit awaiting the arrival of the Montana State Police from 76 miles away to ferry us up to Lewiston to the centerline at 4AM with only hours to spare.Or more hopeless than Cita, Siberia when the skies went from crystal clear to overcast 2 hours before totality.And certainly I did not think an eclipse could be all three of these things rolled into one.

I watched Europe weather for months before the eclipse.There were only one two days it was cloudy from England to Hungary: one day in early July and August 11! The weather was rather variable for ten days prior to eclipse.Stormy, clear, calm, overcast, showers, windy, everything.I felt pretty good about our chances with a car to move us around.

Saturday morning we picked up my late teenage daughters at the Zurich airport, gave them a day to de-jetlag and Sunday we started wandering toward Salzburg for a "Sound of Music" eclipse in the Austrian Alps.At the east end of Lake Constance we climbed a few thousand feet in clear blue skies to "Drei Sicht Gasthaus" (Three Views Hotel) and saw the sharp peaks of tiny Lichtenstein, the lake and gentler hills of Germany, and of course a peak at the moon.

On to Bavaria and Mad King Ludwig's fairytale castle for the evening.

Monday we drive to Salzburg and stay at the oldest gasthaus, Stadtkrug, in the very heart of the city.A two minute walk from Mozart's house.Now we are transitioning into "Eclipse Mode".A walk to the local "Cyber Cafe" to rent 20 minutes time on the slowest computers I have seen since 1984.But no clear cut input to resolve our Bob Seger dilemma, "I could go east, I could go west, It was all up to me to decide." Tomorrow morning we must decide - east to the beautiful mountains of SteierMark region or west through Germany?

Two days to go.A beer, a brat, a super thunderstorm and a walk in 3 inches of evening rain.

Tuesday, one day left.We wait till noon for another weather update.

Upstairs to get our bags and there is a black cat standing outside our room! The cat is to the east, facing west.Turn around, we are going back west.This is a good sign.13 is my lucky number but black cat's are messengers.I gotta get this on video! Can you believe this? I pet it.Very friendly.It has a small white spot on the chest.It comes in the room with me and then goes out the window to another thunderstorm.I am not crossing its path, we go back west.

The heck with Cyber Cafe, the hotel has a fast Internet verbindung (connection).They check out some customers (Kunden) and put me behind the desk.So every person walking in thinks I work there and they test my German.Nein, nein, Ich arbeit heir nicht.

Damn, these weather systems are like the Indy 500 - where do we go, to get between fronts? We very unassuredly decide to take our little Mozart busts and other Austrian trinkets and to go back west to Germany, maybe even France.

So we drive a few hours in the rain but we don't want to go too far and pass the front by morning.In Augsburg we look for another Cyber Cafe, no luck.My wife and kids finally see an eclipse poster and buy it.In the car they tell me the store owner was an astronomer and he is going west also.How far? Why aren't the radio jocks talking about weather instead of "Eclipse Parties"?? Probably because it looks bad all over.

It's starting to break up.Let's stop here in Ulm, Germany.No rooms.The eclipse has everything booked.One guy comes in looking for a room also.I ask him if he is here for the eclipse."No, no, my car is broken - I don't care about the eclipse." (You will when the lights go out tomorrow when you're trying to fix it.)

We find a room in Schwendi in the grazing zone of the south limit! I hope the car starts in the morning!

Crystal clear skies most of the night.Early dawn I go to a hilltop and see Mercury coming up, Orion, Taurus, Pleaides, Saturn, Jupiter and its moons.Nice! Today is the day.Six and a half hours to go.

Back to the room and shower.OK, ladies let's get started.Back to the hill for sunrise and there are some ugly things happening at 25,000 feet.Now every jet contrail is growing.As clouds encircle a rising sun the radio is playing Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."!! Looking west to Stuttgart 50 miles away, it is black.

Back to the room and all the TV stations in Stuttgart have huge Schirmas (umbrellas) out in a soaking rain.

Back on the Internet but the screen in the hotel has no contrast.We cannot make out anything on the satellite image!! (No, lady, I don't work here!)

OK, we just head west until it is all over and we hope and pray."Dad, there is a small break to the east.Why are we going west?" I think it is our best bet.It is overcast and raining."Girls, I hope it rains as hard as possible for 5 hours to get the moisture moved from the sky to the ground and we get some kind of opening.I hope we get a huge thunderstorm to stir things up."

The radio says traffic (Verkehr) is building 10 miles long west of Stuttgart and we are off the Autobahn driving secondary roads for 2 hours.My GPS with road maps built in is very helpful now.2 hours to go.We don't want to take a road outside the limits or a traffic jam there may kill us.Taylor's only technical requirement is to be on French soil for the eclipse.

I begin the countdown.First contact mid -Atlantic, Azores, Portugal, Paris, right here, us.It is pouring.80 minutes to go.Peter is desperately trying to pass a big truck on windy roads."Peter, don't fight it.We have absolutely no idea if we should hurry or slow down.Maybe the truck is supposed to be here." Brianne wakes up while we descend tiny switchbacks through dense fog and heavy rain into the French-German Rhine valley."Dad, is this good with all the rain coming down?" I laugh."I don't think so." 70 minutes left.2 cloud decks, 2000 feet and 20,000 feet.Lower deck is 98% overcast but I think there is a big break way up.

In the middle of a town suddenly a shot of sun.I see a bitten sun a few minutes old.Stop the car! Halten Sie, Halten Sie! Welders glass.We are screaming like it is C2! We feel relieved we at least saw something.60 minutes left.Well, we gave it our best try.We always said the 1999 Europe eclipse was chancey.

"Dad, are we driving toward the small clearing?""Yeah, but the road curves real close to the southern limit for the next ten miles!"45 minutes to go.Contact now in Austria where we were yesterday.The lower deck is clearing! Now ten miles east of Strasbourg, France at a major intersection that goes north-south-east-west."Stop! Let's monitor the blue hole." Cops are stopped, cars are stopped on the Autobahn.Some girl comes up and asks with a French accent, "Are we in the path?" "Yes, but do not drive more than 9 kilometers south of here." (Thank you, Fred Espenak, for your wonderful maps.) I"m just looking at cloud movement.80 mm binocs are out.Nice image with clouds in forefront.30 minutes left.We cannot stay here.Break down the tripod.A bunch of cars follow us.(That guy seems like he knows what's happening).Traffic is crazy suddenly - and slowing us!

Back to the east a few miles and a bit more south.Stop.30 cars surrounded with high trees.I run across the highway to look at clouds beyond the trees! 18 minutes left, it is getting darker.We might have a shot at this!! I am excited, frantic, worried.pumped.No, we can't stay here.15 minutes left.The other cars give up and stay.Good luck! I think the road goes south east to the rapidly departing blue hole.This road is small and windy - not on the GPS or even my regular map.I hope it goes southeast.I hope the hole doesn't bring us past the south limit.9 minutes left.Damn its getting dark from the clouds, NO, its just getting dark.A little mist.Can't drive very fast with a wet and windy road.Through a tiny town not on the map and into dark woods with a serpentine road and very tall trees! We'll never see it in these woods!

Then an absolute classic!! "You reach a fork in the road.One is the road to death, the other is the road to life.Only truth-telling natives and lie-telling natives....." It is black from the woods, black from the eclipse, black from the clouds.7 minutes left.Peter slams the brakes.We five all just stare at each other! Which way silently? No one says a thing.Peter nails it and goes right.Nothing but trees! A minute later we come around a right bend to a beautiful setting.An open vineyard below us with the windy road and farm at our feet.And a couple on a crotchrocket motorcycle in leathers, with welders glass.5 minutes left.Thin crescent.Clouds are bad.Aaaaaggghhh!! I don't know what to do.Girls, what do you think? Trees down the road may be as dangerous as clouds.2 minutes.Let's go.Dori, my wife says she has a good feeling.OK, we stay.Crescent is real thin and rotating to the bottom because we are so close to the southern limit.1 minute.3 cars come around the bend and stop.A German guy starts blaring "Also Sprach, Zarathustra" (2001).30 seconds.A low thin cloud comes in and covers the sun.Damn.Sun is like a parhelion and then a long long diamond ring but I think we're sunk.My finger is on my stopwatch.It seemed to go out a second and then I leap into the air forgetting to start the watch and scream, "We have corona!!" Incredibly bright prominence on the bottom.The bottom is so bright.Corona all around and Venus.Just before C3 a cloud comes.We got over a minute of totality!! A minute and a half later it is overcast and raining! We are incredulous! What a beautiful setting.And then behind us we see this ten foot high Crucifix! We are shaking our heads.Brianne is laughing.Dad, that was like a Toyota commercial, jumping in the air."I love what you do for me, CORONA!" We feel sure the other cars left behind did not see it.

Almost every eclipse is a cliff hanger.I cannot believe I am 6 for 6.

So in the car in the pouring rain we drive over the Rhine to Strasbourg.On the radio we hear in the beautiful mountains of SteierMark region of Austria in Graz they are rained out.Thank you, cat!

I had made a four day motorcycle trip on Maypole Day weekend in 1973 through Germany, France, Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria.It was overcast all four days except the day I approached Strasbourg there was a tiny hole a few miles in the distance.I sped at 160 KM per hour to it and basked in it for just a few minutes.It seemed connected to me now.Near our spot for the eclipse.

The next day I bought 7 German/Swiss newspapers and one had an excellent satellite image of Europe 28 minutes after we saw it.I think I could make out the hole that passed over us.It occurred to me that not only did the Earth, Moon and Sun line up at 10:31 UT, also included were the hole moving northeast and us moving southeast, - quite a conjunction of five for five people! With the overcast and places like Stuttgart having 100,000 in one stadium, probably less than 1 percent saw this one.

The huge cathedral in Strasbourg in the rain was gorgeous.It has a huge 400 year old astro clock inside with all the visible planets lined up perfect and with the moon directly between us and the sun! A few hours later driving back to Switzerland the sun sets over the hills of Alsace-Lorraine through beautiful shafts of light.What a day, God.

1999 Total Eclipse Reports and Photos

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