Time to Start Planning for Viewing the 2024 Solar Eclipse

By Kathie Sutin

It’s time to mark your calendar for important dates in 2024.

Monday, April 8 is one date you’ll want to be sure to note. It promises one of the most exciting celestial events of the decade—a rare total solar eclipse spanning parts of the continent from Mexico, through the U.S., into Canada. Primary viewing spots are once again in our own backyard — Southern Illinois and parts of Missouri.

A solar eclipse happens when a full moon aligns between the sun and earth blocking sunlight. As the moon passes over the sun, the earth seems to experience dawn or dusk with stars appearing in the sky and street lights coming on. 
“Totality” is the watchword for this event. That’s the amount of time the moon totally covers the sun blocking out daylight and bringing darkness to the earth. As the moon completely covers the sun, a bright ring of the sun peaks from around the edges, a sight sometimes called the “ring of fire.”

Although the moon’s path during an eclipse is thousands of miles long, its width is very narrow. The path of the 2024 eclipse is only about 115 miles wide. During a similar eclipse in 2014, Makanda, IL was in the path of totality. It will be again in 2024 but the little town will experience an even longer duration of totality this time. Southern Illinois is a prime eclipse viewing area for 2024 with many communities planning special events to mark to occasion,

SIU Carbondale is offering a four-day Southern Illinois Crossroads Eclipse Festival with events starting that Friday, continuing over the weekend and into Monday, the actual eclipse day.

Touch of Nature Outdoor Education Center in Makanda; Camp Ondessonk in Ozark, IL; Illinois state parks and Shawnee National Forest are offering special lodging packages. For details, go to southernmostillinois.com.

No matter how much planning you do to view the eclipse, the wild card will be the weather. The weather for the 2017 eclipse was perfect. “August in Southern Illinois is generally dry, hot and sunny,” said Carol Hoffman, executive director of Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau. But the weather in April? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. “In April we have a much, much higher chance of it being cloudy, rainy or overcast,” she said. Whatever the weather gods bring for the 2024 eclipse, Hoffman has some tips for enjoying your visit no matter where you end up going.

“Arrive early and don’t leave immediately after,” she said. “Plan to stay around the rest of the day or do an overnight.” Hoffman says she heard “a lot of nightmare stories” about how long it took to leave after the 2017 eclipse, especially from Illinois’ beautiful Garden of the Gods. 

“There were so many people that specifically went there,” she said. “The parking lots were overfilled; people double parked; people parked on the sides of the road. You could not leave there. It was a mess.” Some people who took the five-hour drive down from northern Illinois found it took them twice as long to get home, she added.