Monday, 10 August 2015

Pre-Eclipse 2017 Road Trip: I-80 Nebraska

For over 220 miles Interstate 80 follows the central eclipse path. It is mostly flat and straight road dropping over 1600 feet (about 490 meters) from North Platte (2800') to Lincoln (1200').

The climate shifts between the two ends due to the elevation shift. North Platte (2.29" average rainfall in August) has a dry climate compared to Lincoln (3.49" average rainfall in August). This favors the Western end of the state however I-80 runs along the southern edge of the eclipse path making for shorter eclipse duration times.

Nebraska from driver perspective

In the West, near North Platte, is the southern edge of the eclipse path. I-80 goes almost directly East from there bending to the North slightly before reaching Lincoln, on the far end of the state. Lincoln is near the norther edge of the eclipse path. Near the center most line of the eclipse path is Grand Island where totality will last 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

Before going any further let me be perfectly clear. You should not even consider being on the road during the total eclipse. 
You should be in a rest area or an exit, outside the vehicle 
You cannot prolong the eclipse experience racing down the highway. The shadow is passing at over 1500 miles per hour.

We drove from North Platte to Lincoln. Following the Platte River Valley (and Oregon Trail) this is a very flat area with some interesting terrain along the way. More interesting terrain is to the West of North Platte towards Wyoming, but that will be a later blog entry.

Fort Cody Trading Post along I-80

North Platte was considered the home town of Buffalo Bill Cody and the Wild West Show. Tourist attractions carry that tradition today along the I-80. For eclipse chasers this means a plentiful supply of hotels. From North Platte one can go East towards Lincoln on I-80, North along a number of good state roads, or to the Northwest and Wyoming on SR26.

Sinclair Gas stations are the most common

There are not many exits along I-80. Make sure you have plenty of gas for your car. The majority of exits do not contain gas stations. My recommendation is to top up the tank when at half or less and you see a station. The majority of road is farm land stretching as far as one can see. 

Large irrigation systems keep the crops green in this arid area. Away from the irrigation and river flow, the ground shows evidence of occasional rains.

Rest Stop along I-80, note large lights and trees
Rest Area with out lights, but construction barrels indicate and "upgrade"

And it can be windy. Overpasses present tempting views of the country side with wide vistas but beware they can be gusty. 

Wide open spaces mean that one can see weather fronts and if needed, make a move. Of course, we hope the roads are as free as we found them! Moving along at 70mph allows one to out run the weather. In the picture below, we were going the wrong way.

Something that was mentioned at the Solar Eclipse Conference in 2014 was that the state police might consider closing the highway. It appears they have the tools already in place. During the winter months blowing snow may make the interstate highways impassable. We can only hope they do not select to do this during eclipse day.

 Most of the exits are barren highways. Make sure you fill up before leaving the main highway and venturing into the country side. Also, be polite and ask if you can use a drive way, farm view, and the rare tree to observe the eclipse.

The I-80 highway system through Nebraska is in great condition. Provided there are no major problems or repairs one should be able to stay anywhere along this road and find a clear sky. The climate changes from dryer to more humid as you go from west to east. 

The western portion of the highway has a better probability of success in most climatic studies. This makes North Platte an excellent choice to base.

Links to Trip Advisor for hotels and more: Lincoln NebraskaGrand IslandNorth Platte

...More random thoughts about TSE2017 to follow...

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