Madras won the geographical lottery for this eclipse
Scientists are geeked to be in Madras. NASA and other astronomy organizations will be on the scene Monday morning to make observations previously impossible, like looking at Mercury's surface and taking otherwise impossible measurements of the sun's corona and its interaction with our atmosphere. Other scientists will be there to take observations about what plants and animals do during this interruption in their daily cycles.
So why Madras? This mayhem comes down to the totality -- the “total” in “total eclipse.” Everywhere in the contiguous 48 states will see at least a partial eclipse. But there’s a strip 73 miles wide, from Oregon to South Carolina, where the moon will blot out the sun entirely.
Total eclipses occur somewhere on Earth two to five times every year. But they’re skinny, so a total eclipse lands on any particular point of the planet, on average, once every 375 years. The last total eclipse in North America crossed Mexico in 1991, and the last one visible from the USA was in 1979. That’s a long time for eclipse fans to wait only to be stymied by, say, cloudy skies.
But lucky little Madras sits two mountain ranges away from the Pacific Ocean. As you might remember from earth science, mountain ranges stimulate rainfall by guiding clouds upwards to colder air, where they snow or rain themselves out. In Oregon, once the Pacific air crosses both the Coast Mountains and the Cascades, there’s not much moisture left for cloud cover. (Check a map of Oregon -- it’s a skinny green left margin against a tawny high desert interior.)
Madras gets about 210 sunny days every year. And in August, it’s the most reliably clear-skied community anywhere along the path of the totality.
Thus, in 2015, an astronomer phoned the Madras Chamber of Commerce to tip them that big things were coming. Later that week, a tour group booked out an entire hotel for the weekend. Madras’s Mayor Royce Embanks raised an eyebrow.
It took a little while for people to start taking the totality seriously, says Lysa Vattimo, who’s coordinating the city’s eclipse preparation. “But then the Chamber got a couple more calls,” she says, “and found out we were the premier location for eclipse viewing.”
So they got serious.