In one month, get ready for event 'bigger than football'

1M visitors possible in Columbia for rare event that could be 'bigger than football'
(Source: NASA)
(Source: NASA)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's an event that could temporarily double the Midlands' population. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, people in and around the Columbia area will experience a rare phenomenon.

At 2:41 p.m., total darkness will set in and the temperature outside will plunge. During that afternoon, Columbia will be in the moon's shadow for about 2 minutes and 36 seconds, as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. The area will experience the longest period of 100 percent total solar eclipse for a metro area on the entire East Coast.

"The astronomy community here in Columbia, and really the entire country, is going nuts over this," Matthew Whitehouse of the South Carolina State Museum Observatory said.

"Experts estimate that this total solar eclipse will be the most watched eclipse in the history of the world as we know it," the Columbia area's "Total Eclipse Weekend" website reports. "It will be the first total solar eclipse to make a path all the way across the U.S. in 99 years, while the last total solar eclipse to pass over a portion of the continental U.S. was in February 1979."

Only a handful of spots in the entire country will have a good view, and Columbia is one of them.

"Only those in the 'path of totality' will have the extremely rare, awe-inspiring experience of witnessing a 100 percent total eclipse," the website reports.

Columbia is directly in that path, and Midlands tourism officials are already planning a full weekend of events ahead of the eclipse.

Merritt McNeely, the South Carolina State Museum's Marketing Director, expects the eclipse's economic impact for the Midlands could be "bigger than football" and could create "the largest economic impact the city has ever seen."

She said NASA has told the State Museum and other coordinators that the eclipse could attract a million additional people to South Carolina. McNeely and others are hoping to lure the majority of those people to the greater Columbia area.

McNeely said other areas of the state, like Charleston and Greenville, will experience the eclipse. But, she said the duration of darkness will be larger in Columbia.

The website reports that only a few small communities in the Central United States will experience the eclipse for a longer period of time (by roughly five seconds) than Columbia.

Ultimately, it's a short event that Whitehouse and others have been anticipating for years.

"Excitement level is just ramping up and ramping up as we get closer to the time," Whitehouse said. "It’s really kind of now, as we cross into the New Year here in the next few weeks, really ramping up to fever pitch."?

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