About 8:30 a.m. Monday at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, just west of town, Buchanan County Presiding Commissioner Harry Roberts said: “Everything’s going according to plan.”
On cue: thunder claps.
Sadly, for all its planning and prep work, there was nothing St. Joe could do about the weather Monday.
“Well, it wasn’t a total bust,” said Mark Finnegan, who traveled here from Iowa City, Iowa. “But it sure would have been nice to have clear skies.”
By some reckonings, there were few places that should have been as sweet to watch a total solar eclipse as St. Joseph. Only two other spots in the country would have longer blackouts, and typically, August skies are clearer in Northwest Missouri than the other spots.
Alas, eclipse Monday was a soggy, socked-in day. Off-and-on rain. Clouds all day. When the moment of totality arrived, the sun and moon stayed largely hidden.
The sun and moon did peek through for a too-brief moment at Rosecrans airport, delighting the take-what-we-can-get crowd.
The city was expecting 25,000 at the airport, although the crowd appeared smaller, and perhaps 90,000 out-of-towners coming into the county.
In the end, though, there was no getting around it. The weather was disappointing for all the people who planned St. Joseph’s events.
“Strategically and logistically, it was awesome,” said Beth Conway, spokeswoman for the St. Joseph Visitors Bureau. “But we can’t plan the weather. It is what it is.”
It was still a rich experience, “meeting hundreds of people from all over the world,” she said. “We had thousands of visitors. ... I just wish we could have seen it a little better.”
‘Something we need’
From Lee’s Summit, buddies Bernadette Swanson and Brenda Markle took cover from the rain in their car at Rosecrans airport as totality approached, snacking on Cheetos and sandwiches while they played gods-tempting songs like “Here Comes the Sun.”
“See that bright spot right there? Right there,” said Swanson, the optimistic one.
The minutes ticking to 1:06 p.m., the cloud cover actually looked pretty complete.
Markle, who approached the eclipse with a spiritual sensibility, began talking fatalistically. “It’s a good omen that we get the clouds,” she said. “I think it’s meant to be. ... Rain is a part of this planet, too.”
A slight break in the clouds and a view of the partial eclipse sprung into the sky. The women bolted out of the car, eclipse glasses at the ready.
Then that disappeared.
Finally, 1:06 arrived. The clouds remained.
A cloudy day turned to a cloudy night. The horizons started simmering in sunset orange.
“You can feel it getting colder,” Swanson said.
Finally, the totality came into view. Yelps sounded across the airport’s grassy outskirts. A silhouetted moon was there, if for an instant. It peeked out again, a half minute later, this time to applause.
The women hugged. And began counting their blessings.
“It’s something we need. The country needs. It’s a restart,” Markle said. “You just have to appreciate it.”
For a moment, it seemed that not only were the clouds thickening at exactly the wrong time over the East Hills shopping center crowds in St. Joseph, but rain that had been forecast to hold off until later was coming down hard.
Then, just as the hundreds gathered here from points even around the world huddled under umbrellas, tents and overhangs, the rain quit, as if inviting everyone out together into the sudden and mysterious darkness sweeping over them.
It wasn’t what new friends Sunny Romo, 22, of Chicago, and Maximiliano Vallejo, 27, of Mexico City, expected. They had met in Kansas City on their journey to St. Joseph and together had scrambled to buy a pair of welder’s helmets when they couldn’t get their hands on any of those hard-to-find sunglasses.
They came all this way, Romo said, “because I heard there is a feeling you get, like it immerses you,” he said. “How perfect it is.”
It didn’t seem to matter when their welder’s helmets became of no use.
“That was pure euphoria running through my veins,” Romo said once daylight came rushing back.
“That second sunrise,” Vallejo said, “was amazing.”
“When is the next one?!” Romo said. “I wish I could go back and live that again.”
Hundreds of Orthodox Jews from throughout the country were in seminars at the Kosher Eclipse conference at Stoney Creek hotel in St. Joseph.
So many Jewish rites and customs connect to the courses of the Sun and the moon, Aaron Sahs said, he had to come, all the way from Baltimore.
“To see something like this behind the scenes in how God runs the world ... is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Sahs, 20, said.
His flight into Kansas City International Airport was full of people thrilled about the eclipse, many carrying extravagant cameras, he said.
Travelers from as far away as Minnesota and Texas had lined up their cars at dawn to join the viewing party at Tipple Hill Winery and Vineyard on U.S. 36 east of St. Joseph.
Farmington, Minn., school superintendent Jay Haugen had driven to the Canadian border in North Dakota in 1979 to witness an eclipse, and knew then he’d do anything he could to see another.
Even though the weather clouds were not cooperating, “the whole experience of the day” is worth the trip, he said, especially when the darkness sets in.
“The way it goes quiet,” he said, “and even grows colder.”