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'Chasing totality': Montana residents planning long trips to see solar eclipse

Indiana Solar Eclipse Voting
Posted at 9:19 AM, Apr 06, 2024

BILLINGS - Billings residents are making travel plans so that they will be in the path of the total solar eclipse on Monday.

The total solar eclipse is set to take place early in the afternoon and will be the first one to pass over the United States since 2017.

The event is rare and that's why Billings residents like Helen and David Hester are turning it into a road trip.

"We're kind of chasing totality today," Helen said Thursday. "It just seemed like the thing to do and here we are close enough that we're going to head north from here and see what it looks like."

The Hesters have spent the last week in Atlanta visiting their son and brand-new grandson. Helen said it gets them closer to the path of the eclipse, which is why they'll be driving the more than six hours to Evansville, Indiana in the next few days.

"It should be totality up there," Hester said. "I think it's going to be four or five minutes, but I've heard it's a really cool experience."

Helen said a big reason they went out of their way to witness the eclipse this year is because they watched the one in 2017 from San Antonio and only got to see the partial view.

"I was aware of the one coming up in 2024," Helen said. "I was kind of taken with the one in 2017, and I said, 'I want to go to totality in 2024.'"

And the Hesters aren't alone. Billings National Weather Service Meteorologist Joe Lester and his wife are also gearing up for an eclipse road trip. He said his family traveled to Thermopolis, Wyoming in 2017 and encourages anyone who can to make sure they see a total eclipse during their life.

"I think it's the uniqueness that makes it so special," Lester said. "You have to see a total eclipse. The partial eclipses are neat, but a total eclipse is 100% the thing you have to do."

And that's why Lester has no problem driving even further than he did in 2017. This year, he's planning to drive more than 20 hours to find a location in the path that has clear skies.

"My plan is somewhere between northern Arkansas, through southeast Missouri, southern Illinois," Lester said. "There's going to be a lot of clouds this year along the path of the eclipse, but I'm hoping to find a spot where I can see it."

Lester said that the stress of finding a good spot, as well as the long drive, will all be worth it, knowing many memories will be made along the way.

"It's one of those things that's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime or twice-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," Lester said.