For a few brief minutes on Aug. 21, day will turn into night in 12 states in the continental US during a rare total solar eclipse. During this time, the earth's moon will perfectly align with the sun, casting a 70-mile-wide shadow (known as the umbra) from Oregon to South Carolina. The last coast-to-coast total solar eclipse occurred in 1918, and for many US citizens, the upcoming event will be the best opportunity to view a solar eclipse in their lifetime. The umbra of the moon will follow the 'path of totality' during its one-hour-and-33-minute trek across the US. Totality will commence near Depoe Bay, Ore. at 1016 PDT and end at 1449 EDT near Charleston, S.C. Outside of the path of totality, the remainder of the US will experience a partial solar eclipse; the degree to which the sun will be covered by the moon will vary based on proximity to the path of totality.
The path of totality will cross 12 states from Oregon to South Carolina. A little over 12 million people live within the path of totality, and it is estimated that up to 7.4 million people will travel to locations within this path to experience the solar eclipse. State and local governments have been preparing for the event for years due to the likelihood of both business and transport disruptions. Some communities plan to activate emergency operation centers (EOCs) to deal with the influx of tourists and potential hazards.
- The large influx of visitors to the path of totality will undoubtedly result in increased traffic congestion and transportation disruptions on Aug. 21; emergency response times might be slowed, and area airports will likely receive higher-than-normal passenger volumes.
- Businesses, particularly those located in rural areas, might have trouble accommodating the increase in customer traffic; temporary closures and limited staffing could lead to long wait times.
- Campers who are unfamiliar with local restrictions will increase the risk of wildfires in the days before and after the eclipse, especially in the western US.
The vast number of people expected to travel to the path of totality will undoubtedly cause significant traffic congestion and transport disruptions on Aug. 21. The worst conditions will likely materialize in highly populated areas along the West Coast from Portland, Ore. to Boise, Idaho, and from Kansas City, Mo. southeastward to Charleston. Areas in the central US and Intermountain West could also experience significant traffic jams, especially since these rural areas lack adequate highway infrastructure to accommodate the increased tourism. Officials in Nebraska believe that the solar eclipse will be the state's largest-ever tourism event.
Traffic will likely be heaviest right after the eclipse passes, which has led authorities to warn residents and travelers to prepare for slower response times from emergency services. Many communities are planning to boost the number of patrols and on-duty officers during the event to ensure adequate coverage, but responding to emergency calls - particularly in rural locations - during the event will be challenging. Officials are also warning of the potential for distracted drivers during the passage of the eclipse. Many motorists along area interstates, including I-5, I-40, I-70, I-80, and I-95, could be tempted to pull onto the shoulder or median to view the totality, leading to an increased chance of accidents.
In addition to ground transport disruptions, many of the eclipse viewers will likely be utilizing area airports in the days before and after the event. Increased passenger volume is likely at airports serving Boise (BOI), Casper (CPR), Charleston (CHS), Kansas City (MCI), Lincoln (LNK), Nashville (BNA), Omaha (OMA), Portland (PDX), and St. Louis (STL).
An influx of tourists in the path of totality will probably take a toll on local businesses. There will be limited, if any, hotel availability around Aug. 21 in many major cities and towns. Any accommodations that remain available are likely to be highly priced. Motorists are being urged to ensure that vehicles are properly fueled due to the potential for long wait times at local gas stations; increased patronage could also overwhelm operations at grocery stores, bars, and restaurants in smaller communities. Some businesses could end up closing due to limited supplies or personnel; higher-than-normal employee absenteeism is likely during the day of the eclipse in the path of totality.
Another concern during the passage of the eclipse will be the strain on cellular networks. Major carriers anticipate increased congestion and slow connection times on their networks as individuals share their experiences on social media and send text messages of their experience to friends and family.
The total solar eclipse could present additional dangers that might not be immediately apparent to residents or tourists. In the western US, exceptionally dry weather conditions have increased the wildfire risk in states like Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming. Campers who are unfamiliar with potential burn bans may inadvertently spawn a major fire incident; simply parking a hot vehicle over dry vegetation could ignite a blaze. Due to this increased wildfire risk, officials in Oregon plan to deploy at least 150 members of the National Guard to assist local authorities in possible response operations.
Another, more individualized hazard associated with the total solar eclipse could arise from improper viewing techniques. To safeguard your eyes from potential retina damage, it is imperative to view the event through special eclipse glasses. These spectacles will shield the eye from damaging UV rays during the time leading up to, and following, totality. Those in the path of totality can safely remove their glasses when the moon is completely blocking the sun; however, the eye protection must remain on when any part of the sun is visible. Authorities are concerned about an influx of counterfeit glasses being distributed across the US; such glasses are improperly marked with the ISO 12312-2 compliance label. In light of this, the American Astronomical Society has published a list of reputable manufacturers (link).
The total solar eclipse has potential to create localized business and transport disruptions in the path of totality in the days leading up to and during the passage. Despite this concern, it will be a rare event that those across the US - even outside of the umbra - will likely stop to experience for a few minutes on Aug. 21. By taking the following simple precautions, individuals in the US can ensure that they enjoy the eclipse safely.
- Allow plenty of additional driving time if operating in the path of totality on Aug. 21; consider waiting to drive to nonessential destinations for a few hours after totality has passed, and traffic has lessened.
- Ensure that vehicles are properly fueled, especially in rural locations.
- Avoid pulling over to view the eclipse along area roadways; be aware of possible distracted drivers during the few minutes of totality.
- Arrive at airports serving areas in the path of totality early following the eclipse due to higher-than-normal passenger volumes and wait times for check-in and security screenings.
- Confirm hotel reservations in advance due to limited availability; confirm business appointments on Aug. 21.
- Prepare for the possibility of slow or limited cellphone service; ensure alternative communication channels are established for emergency situations.
- Fully comply with fire regulations; completely extinguish campfires, and adhere to burn bans.
- Ensure solar eclipse glasses meet federally mandated requirements before viewing the eclipse.
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