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It’s eclipse day, Texas! Here’s everything you need to know about the total solar eclipse

 A partial solar eclipse is seen from northern Denton County on May 20, 2012.
Al Key
DRC file photo
A partial solar eclipse is seen from northern Denton County on May 20, 2012.

Sure, we love the sun. After all, its continued existence is essential for the survival of all life on Earth. But don’t you sometimes just wish it would dramatically disappear for a few minutes, completely obscured by the moon?

Of course you do!

And today, you’re in luck. It’s finally Monday, April 8. This afternoon, thirteen states — and some 30-million Americans — will be in the path of a historic, total solar eclipse. That includes a wide swath of Texas, stretching from Eagle Pass on the state’s southern border all the way to Texarkana.

So, take that, sun! We’re ready. After all, the U.S. won’t see another eclipse like this until 2044. Read on for everything you need to know to maximize eclipse-related awe and minimize eclipse-adjacent headaches.

When and where to watch

First off, not all of Texas will be in the path of totality. But those lucky enough to be should first start noticing changes in the sky just after noon.

“The solar eclipse begins with what we call first contact. That’s when the moon first starts to impinge on the disk of the sun,” said Angela Speck, chair of the University of Texas at San Antonio’s physics and astronomy department, in a recent Texas Standard interview.

“Basically, 12:15-ish we start to see a partial eclipse,” she said.

According to GeatAmericanEclipse.com, totality will begin in Texas around 1:27 p.m. on the state’s southern border after moving up through Mexico. This will give folks in Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Uvalde and the surrounding areas the first glimpses.

A few minutes later, the path of totality moves onto the Fredericksburg, Kerrville and San Antonio areas. It’ll then cut a path northeast that will include Austin, Waco and the DFW metroplex before moving out of Texas just before 1:50 p.m. Check here for more specific timing in your area.

What’s this whole ‘totality’ thing again?

Basically, it’s what we call the moments of complete darkness during a total solar eclipse, when the moon passes directly in front of the sun.

As NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce explains it, "During a total eclipse, the sky darkens suddenly and dramatically. The temperature drops. Stars come out. Beautiful colors appear around the horizon. And the once-familiar sun becomes a black void in the sky surrounded by the glowing corona — that's the ghostly white ring that is the sun's atmosphere."

According to people who’ve witnessed totality before, many have a “deep emotional response” to the awe-inspiring experience.

“Awe” truly is the best way to explain it — “This emotion people feel when they come across something mind-blowing or unexpected,” Sean Goldy recently told KERA.

Godly is a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University who studied peoples’ responses to the 2017 total solar eclipse, which stretched from Oregon to South Carolina in the U.S. He said his team found people felt humbled after viewing the total eclipse. They also felt more empathetic, less angry and more connected to people around them.

Totality can also be a spiritual experience. Ahead of the eclipse, KUT’s Chelsey Zhu spoke to several Austin yogis, astrologers and even tarot card readers. “They all agreed the eclipse is a rare opportunity for personal growth if you know how to take advantage of it,” said Zhu.

How can I watch safely?

You’ve likely already heard that today’s forecast shows overcast and rainy skies across much of Texas. But if the weather is on our side (and storms hold off until later this afternoon) here are some tips for safely observing the eclipse.

First — and this is very, very important — don’t stare directly at the sun!

“Looking at any part of the exposed sun without the right kind of protection can permanently injure the eye's light-sensitive retina,” reported Greenfieldboyce.

Specifically, bright light from the sun can damage a small part of the retina called the foeva, causing what’s known as solar retinopathy.

Stella Gutierrez-Jones, 9, gazes up at the sky as a partial eclipse takes place last October.
Deborah Cannon

KUT News
Stella Gutierrez-Jones, 9, gazes up at the sky as a partial eclipse takes place last October.

“In simple terms, you can think of it as burning the back of the eye,” Dr. Karen Saland, an ophthalmologist with Texas Health Dallas, told KERA. “But it's really more damage to the cells that are back there. And it's the intense light producing a chemical reaction which then causes this solar retinopathy.”

This is serious. In fact, numerous people ended up in the optometrist's office after the 2017 solar eclipse. According to Saland, once something like this happens to the eye, “we can assume that the damage is permanent and irreversible.”

But damage can be avoided with proper eye protection. Luckily, given all the excitement around today’s eclipse, safety glasses have been widely available everywhere from gas stations to grocery store checkout lines. While 2017 saw a flood of counterfeit eclipse glasses, KUT reported the American Astronomical Society said it has “seen no evidence so far this year that any eclipse glasses or solar viewers are unsafe.”

Still, if you’re shopping for last-minute specks, Saland recommends looking for ones with “ISO 123122” written somewhere on the packaging. Then, test them out beforehand. “When wearing your glasses you should not be able to see anything in the sky except for the sun,” reported KUT.

Don’t have glasses? You can also make a pinhole projector which will allow you to track the action in the sky without looking up at the sun.

Travel and tourism could mean big bucks for Texas

While a lot of classic rockers may spend Monday listening to Brain Damage/Eclipse from Pink Floyd's classic album Dark Side of the Moon, another track from that record would be just as appropriate: Money.

That’s because Texas could see an eclipse-related economic impact of around $1.4 billion, as KUT reported. Estimates state hundreds of thousands (possibly even millions) of people could visit Texas for the eclipse, igniting an economic boom that could resonate well beyond today. A report from the Waco-based Perryman Group says that amount includes $749.5 million in gross product and $453.6 million in personal income.

The report notes that Fort Worth, Arlington and Grapevine could see an estimated $53.9 million in direct expenditures and an economic impact of $197.2 million.

Bulent Temel, an assistant professor of practice and economics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, told the Texas Standard that Monday could feature the “most profitable 22 minutes in Texas history” — though his estimates aren’t as high as the Perryman Group’s.

What about traffic?

So, the good news is that most Texans are already used to heavy traffic. The bad news is that traffic is only predicted to get worse during activities surrounding the eclipse.

A lot worse, actually.

The gridlock could be “historic” according to KUT. Travis County even issued a local disaster declaration ahead of the eclipse, allowing the county to control and coordinate traffic.

“The emergency services personnel asked me to enter this declaration so that we have the ability to regulate traffic to allow for the passage of emergency vehicles during the eclipse," County Judge Andy Brown told the station. "We also want to make sure we have a good sense of all events in that area and how that will impact traffic."

In North Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation warned drivers to take extra caution Monday.

“TxDOT wants to make sure that drivers pull into a safe location to watch the eclipse,” said Bethany Kurtz, a public information officer at TxDOT’s Fort Worth District, in a recent interview with The Fort Worth Report.

“It’s important that drivers pull over in a designated parking space before the eclipse if they want to view it. Parking or standing on road shoulders, medians or stopping in the middle of the road will not be permitted” Kurtz explained.

The eclipse might freak out your pets

We modern humans know this solar eclipse is coming. News coverage and the massive amount of anticipation around it have been almost impossible to avoid. But our animal friends won’t be as prepared.

When faced with sudden darkness in the middle of the day, animals may become confused, think it’s nighttime or even become stressed.

“The shadows get sharp, the birds start going to roost, the crickets start chirping, the dogs lay down,” Patricia Reiff, a self-proclaimed “eclipse junkie” and Rice University professor, told Houston Public Media.

Past eclipses can give us some idea of what to expect. “Researchers observed unusual animal behaviors at the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina” during the 2017 solar eclipse, HPM reported. “According to a 2020 study, approximately 75% of the observed animals at the South Carolina zoo responded to the eclipse. Animals including baboons, gorillas, giraffes, flamingos and lorikeets displayed characteristics of anxiety.”

Jamie Wallace, owner and operator of Safe in Austin, a 10-acre rescue ranch for abused and neglected animals in Leander, pets her horse 'Louie.' Wallace has invited children to her ranch on April 8 to help comfort animals during the total solar eclipse.
Kailey Hunt
KUT News
Jamie Wallace, owner and operator of Safe in Austin, a 10-acre rescue ranch for abused and neglected animals in Leander, pets her horse 'Louie.' Wallace has invited children to her ranch on April 8 to help comfort animals during the total solar eclipse.

Total solar eclipses also offer a unique opportunity for those who study animal behavior, something teams will be doing all over the state today.

And if you’ll be spending today’s eclipse viewing with pets — or even just watching animals in your backyard — you can share observations with the Solar Eclipse Safari project.

"We are interested in collecting data from anywhere where people are," Adam Hartstone-Rose, a North Carolina State biological sciences professor, told KUT.

While Hartstone-Rose will be spending Monday at the Fort Worth Zoo, his project is hoping to hear from people all over.

"We are really interested in learning about not just which animals react to an eclipse and how they react, but what extent of totality is necessary ... to cause that reaction," he said.

But what if I’m not in the total path of totality?

A large chunk of Texas — including El Paso, the Panhandle, the Rio Grande Valley and the Houston-area — will miss out on a total solar eclipse. But there’s still a worthwhile show in the sky and plenty of things to do.

El Paso will see a partial eclipse, with more than 80% of the sun blocked out — a rare sight for a place known as the Sun City. The peak will come around 12:25 p.m. Mountain time. If you haven’t already made plans, The El Paso Times has this handy list of watch parties and other local events.

While Houston won’t be totally blacked out either, it will see a slightly more dramatic show than El Paso. The sun should appear between 93% to 95% covered.

"It's going to look kind of like a crescent moon," UTSA’s Angela Speck told Houston Public Media. "If you block out enough of the sun, what's left is just a crescent of it. That's pretty cool, and it's going to look like a fairly skinny crescent."

That should peak around 1:40 p.m. in the Houston area.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the eclipse will vary depending on your location, with sun coverage ranging between 88% and 93%, according to the local CBS station.

Reporters from KUT Austin, KERA North Texas, Houston Public Media and Texas Public Radio in San Antonio contributed to this story. Visit the website of your local public radio station for more Solar Eclipse 2024 coverage.

Copyright 2024 KERA

Julián Aguilar | The Texas Newsroom
Rachel Osier Lindley is a Senior Editor for The Texas Newsroom, a public radio journalism collaboration between KERA in North Texas, KUT in Austin, Houston Public Media, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and NPR.