By Susan Hill Smith for The Island Eye News
Expect a lot of jostling for position as people consider viewing spots for the Aug. 21 “Great American Eclipse,” and don’t be surprised if the event draws some extra celestial attention to Isle of Palms, the final U.S. city the moon’s shadow will touch before heading into the waves of the Atlantic.
The last time the Southeastern coast of the United States had such prime viewing for a total solar eclipse was in 1970, making this a first-time event for many, and one to remember for the ages.
Weather permitting, a partial eclipse will be visible to the entire North American continent that Monday. However, the “path of totality,” within which people will have a rare chance to experience the complete absence of sunlight during daytime hours, will be up to 168 miles wide and affect portions of 12 states.
The umbra — the moon’s complete shadow — will speed across the country, starting in Oregon and ending in South Carolina, where it will run diagonally from the Upstate’s northwest corner to our eastern shores, impacting 13 counties, including most of Charleston County.
Even within the path of totality, the length of time viewers can experience the eclipse will vary based on location. In general, the closer you are to the center of the path, the longer you will be in darkness, with the maximum amount of possible total eclipse time in any spot being about 2 minutes and 41 seconds, according to NASA.
On our islands, the partial eclipse will start just after 1:17 p.m. and end at around 4:10 p.m. The total eclipse begins at 2:46 p.m. and ends at 2:48 p.m. Looking directly at the sun and moon could cause eye damage, so be sure to wear eclipse glasses with a filter that meets the ISO 12312- 2 standard.
Terry Richardson, a College of Charleston professor of physics and astronomy, made some calculations that showed the local range and impact. Richardson determined that the total eclipse will last 1 minute, 30.6 seconds at White Point Garden on peninsular Charleston; 1 minute, 50.5 seconds at Breach Inlet; 2 minutes, 8.2 seconds at Isle of Palms’ northeastern tip; and 2 minutes, 12.4 seconds on Dewees Island’s front beach.
To get the maximum amount of total eclipse time in the Lowcountry, you would need to go farther north along the coast, closer to the village of McClellanville — where it will last 2 minutes, 32.9 seconds, according to Richardson’s calculations. McClellanville is also the last town or city touched by the total eclipse, with the centrality of the moon’s shadow completing its path across the country just eight seconds short of 2:49 p.m.
However, the Isle of Palms will be the last U.S. Municipality in the partial shadow of the moon if you consider the time the shadow leaves the northeastern tip of the island, at 4:10 p.m and 14 seconds. “Wild Dunes gets the last view of the moon taking a bite out of the sun before the moon’s shadow moves offshore,” Richardson says.
For those in the path of totality, it promises to be a sensory treat, with something akin to a 360-degree sunset, a noticeable temperature drop and a possible quieting of animals tricked into thinking it’s night. “It’s really an emotional experience that you experience not just with your eyes, but your whole body,” he says.
With all the traffic concerns, the professor encourages folks with an easy beachfront view on Isle of Palms to take advantage of their unique position. After all, South Carolina won’t be treated to another total eclipse until 2052.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of SiP magazine.