PORTLAND, Ore. - As many as a million visitors are expected in Oregon and 500,000 in Idaho later this month as a solar eclipse sweeps across the country on August 21, the first such event to take place in the continental U.S. since 1979.
The eclipse will make landfall between Lincoln City and Newport, at 10:15 a.m., then head east cutting a swath across the entire country to South Carolina. Many will drive to a point along the eclipse’s “path of totality”—an area that will be shrouded in total darkness for about two minutes.
Emergency planners are expecting huge crowds as tourists flock to Oregon and Idaho to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event. The eclipse is taking place during the heart of the summer travel and fire season so resources may be stretched thin. The state of Oregon will even have the National Guard provide support to local and state agencies that may need some extra help.
Oregon and Idaho cities under the path of totality include Lincoln City, Salem, Corvallis, Madras, Prineville, John Day and Ontario, Oregon, and Weiser, Cascade and Stanley, Idaho. A partial eclipse will be visible across a much wider path.
Eclipse chasers along with the normal heavier summer traffic may clog highways, impacting residents and tourists alike.
“The path of totality stretches across rural parts of Oregon and Idaho, many of which can only be accessed by two-lane highways. So AAA advises drivers to plan on bumper-to-bumper traffic at times,” says Marie Dodds, public affairs director for AAA Oregon/Idaho. “Factor in a crash or a fire and traffic could be stopped for hours.”
AAA is proactively mobilizing its resources, gearing up for extreme traffic conditions that may rival a severe winter weather event.
“Our call volume can double and even triple during a weather event, so we are gearing up for some 6,000 calls per day around the eclipse,” adds Dodds.
The top three roadside assistance requests during the summer months are dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. And with severe gridlock, motorists may run out of fuel.
Emergency responders warn that they might not be able to reach everyone who needs assistance in a timely manner. So it’s important for travelers to be prepared in case they get stranded.
AAA has these tips for eclipse viewers:
Prepare for possible supply shortages. Some communities may experience food, water and fuel shortages. Keep your fuel tank as full as possible; good advice is to not let it below about half a tank. Stock up on food and water for you and your passengers, including pets. Be sure to have enough drinking water and non-perishable food for travelers and pets to last at least a couple of days in case you get stranded.
Pack an emergency kit. Every vehicle should be equipped with a well-stocked emergency kit that includes a mobile phone and car charger, flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid kit, a basic toolkit with tire pressure gauge and adjustable wrench, windshield washer solution, jumper cables and emergency flares or reflectors. As mentioned above, bring water and snacks for all travelers and pets.
Schedule a checkup for your car. Take your vehicle to a trusted repair facility to perform any needed maintenance before heading out. Oil changes, fluid level checks, battery tests and tire inspections go a long way toward reducing the chances of a breakdown.
Check your car battery before hitting the road. Summer heat is the number one cause of battery failure and reduced battery life. Get your electrical charging system tested at the same time as the battery. A faulty alternator is one of the most common causes of battery failure. Most batteries have a three- to five-year service life. “Your older battery may work just fine in moderate weather, but may not turn over during summer heat,” says Dodds.
Leave early, expect delays. Even under the best circumstances, Oregon’s roadways will be extremely busy around the eclipse. Factor in a crash and drivers could experience gridlock for hours. If at all possible, depart for your eclipse viewing spot a couple of days early and plan to stay an extra day or two. Many hotels and campsites have been booked up for months if not years, but you may still be able to stay with friends or find a spot to park a trailer or RV.
Watch the eclipse safely. The only safe way to look directly at the eclipse is to wear special eclipse glasses that are verified to meet the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard.