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Clouds break just in time for many in Texas to view eclipse

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CELESTE — The clouds disappeared, opening the sky. Then a curtain of darkness settled in as the moon completely covered the sun, creating a shimmering halo. And a crowd of about 50 eager onlookers at Clymer Meadow Preserve erupted with cheers once the eclipse reached its peak of totality on Monday.

Attendees took off their glasses to admire the sight as the sky turned pink and purple like an early sunset. One child pointed with excitement as Jupiter and Venus became visible.

Truett Cates, 77, from Sherman said, “Hurray for the sun!” and then tears formed in his eyes. For three minutes and 39 seconds, he and the others at this North Texas nature preserve viewed the eclipse in awe. Cates had organized his family reunion around the eclipse; many cousins and siblings had traveled in from Florida, New Jersey and California.

Hours earlier, when clouds blanketed the sky and blocked the sun, Cates’ brother-in-law Russell Johnson said, “I don’t care if it rains. Whatever happens with the eclipse, it’s been a wonderful family experience and I’m willing to take whatever Mother Nature will give us.”

Luckily for them and thousands of people across Texas who had spent days laser-focused on a weather forecast that predicted cloud cover over most of the eclipse’s path across the state, the clouds broke up just a little in many places before the celestial experience, allowing at least a partial view of the eclipse.

According to NASA, a solar eclipse like this year’s won’t happen again for another 20 years. The buildup to the eclipse had many small town leaders across the street nervous about massive crowds and traffic. Multiple Central Texas counties declared local disasters in order to control people moving in and out of their areas and more easily tap into state resources.

In Texas, the eclipse’s path of totality began in Eagle Pass around 12:10 p.m. and ended at Texarkana around 3:06 p.m. Visitors from other parts of Texas, other states and other nations joined many of the 12.8 million Texans (according to the state comptroller’s office) who live in that path to stare at the sky. Many school districts closed for the event.

In Eagle Pass, Jessica Alcala, 41, embraced her 7-year-old daughter Ava tightly as the eclipse approached totality at 1:27 p.m. Her son, JJ, burst with excitement while Alcala shed tears of joy. The eclipse lasted four minutes and 24 seconds.

“We were amazed,” she said. “It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before — unbelievable. I’m still at a loss for words.”

Alcala expressed pride that her hometown was the first U.S. city to witness the eclipse. She said scientists from outside the area visited to see the spectacle. She said she appreciated the non-immigration-related news coverage, believing it showcased Eagle Pass in a different light.

“There’s more to our city than just immigration,” she said.

But the weather didn’t cooperate everywhere and many people didn’t get to see the eclipse because of cloud cover.

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Earlier Monday, the National Weather Service had warned of severe storms, large hail, tornadoes, damaging winds and flooding in some parts of Texas after the eclipse, and advised those traveling to have a plan in place.

The city of Burnet canceled its eclipse festival due to “risks of high winds, tornadic activity, large hail, and thunderstorms.” The multi-day event, which the county sheriff predicted was going to bring more than 30,000 people to the town of 6,000 residents, was going to feature music, art and of course eclipse viewing.

In Austin, as the moon crossed the sun for a few fleeting minutes, Melody Contreras and Tyson Rutter said their “I do’s” on the lawn in front of the Texas Capitol, where hundreds of people lounged on the grass waiting for slight breaks in the clouds.

The couple lives in Brownsville and has been together for 12 years. They’ve already done two eclipses together — one in North Carolina in 2017 and last year’s annular eclipse in Texas.

They initially planned for a beach wedding in October, but a medical emergency forced them to reschedule. They had already booked a hotel room in Austin for the eclipse and decided it would be special to get married then, too.

On Monday, eclipse totality began at 1:35 p.m. in Austin and lasted about two minutes.

“It’s kind of special because it’s this thing that we’ve done together,” Contreras said.

After the couple wed, hundreds of fellow eclipse viewers on the Capitol grounds erupted in applause.

“It was pretty wild,” Contreras said.

Credit: by Alejandra Martinez and Pooja Salhotra, Texas Tribune

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