BEND, Ore. - Other than a backup at a La Pine traffic light on Highway 97, Central Oregon's traffic - and, many businesses frustratingly report, customer volume - was lower on Saturday, two days before the solar eclipse, than it is on a normal late-August weekend, much to the chagrin of merchants and joy of motorists.
Why? It could have something to do with national coverage of the 15- to 30-mile traffic jams in the Prineville area a few days ago, as Symbisosis concert-goers arrived in droves.
And just maybe the tall, dark smoke plumes rising from the Milli, Nena Springs and other fires (that have played havoc with hundreds of evacuated residents' weekend plans) prompted some travelers to choose other places to go. Plus, busy stores days ago indicated many local residents paid heed to the advice to stock up and stay off the roads this weekend.
It can be awfully hard to tell – just as hard as it is to predict how many people are going to visit any particular region for the first U.S. total eclipse of the social media era. Motel, RV hookup and campsite reservations only tell so much.
A post NewsChannel 21 made to its Facebook page asking about people's experiences with light traffic, easy parking and too-empty stores or restaurants brought plenty of responses -- some comparing it to the Y2K fizzle. And there also was plenty of criticism of "media hype" regarding the eclipse crowds -- despite the fact that news reports simply reflected the estimates and concerns put out by state and local officials. (Some would call them "guesstimates," considering all the unknowns officials faced.)
But it also could have much to do with the long-standing advice to prepare for bad traffic as it does people's decisions not to come, or where to go -- we'll see in the next few days, especially in the homeward-bound post-eclipse crunch next week.
"We're pretty sure people heeded our warnings to 'come early, stay put and stay late,'" ODOT spokeswoman Angela Miller said Saturday at the tri-county Joint Information Center in Redmond. She noted that predictions all along were for increased traffic each day, not all at once -- and Miller said Highway 97 traffic volume is up 20 percent from the norm for this time of year.
Whatever's really happening, and why - keeping in mind the biggest crunch is expected to play out after the eclipse -- time will tell.
In the meantime, here's the Central Oregon and statewide eclipse updates for Saturday:
First, from the Central Oregon Joint Information Center:
Saturday, August 19, 2017, 2 p.m. UPDATE
Time of the eclipse (in Madras):
- Begins: 9:06 a.m.
- Total darkness begins (in Madras): 10:19 a.m.
- Total darkness lasts (in Madras): 2 minutes and 2 seconds
- General eclipse questions: 211
- General fire questions: 541-316-7711 or centralorfireinfo.blogspot.com
- Milli Fire: 541-316-7711
- Nena Springs Fire: 541-460-7525 or https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/5489/
Have questions about the eclipse? Call 211info
To prepare for the days leading up to and after the Eclipse, 211info is partnering with local and state agencies to provide information on travel, safety, fire, health and general eclipse questions. This allows people to have one place to quickly get directed to specific resources, and have a live person to talk to with real-time information.
From August 16-23, anyone can call 2-1-1 or text 'eclipse' to 898211 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. or visit www.211info.org/eclipse.
Milli Fire: Gusty winds on Friday pushed the fire to the east-southeast, causing Level 3 (Go Now) evacuations of approximately 600 residents. The evacuations occurred in the Edgington/Remuda Road and Crossroads subdivisions, and included residents living along the 16 Road, immediately to the south of the town of Sisters. The Tollgate subdivision remains on a Level 1 (Get Ready) evacuation.
There is a community meeting tonight at 6 pm at Sisters High School. Representatives of the incident management team and local agencies will be there to provide the latest information on the fire and answer questions.
Level 3 - The subdivisions of Crossroads, Edgington/Remuda, Wildwing Peterson Burn Road Area, and along both sides Three Creeks Lake Road (Forest Road 16) immediately south of Sisters.
Level 1 - The subdivision of Tollgate
OR242 east of Cascade Crest to the junction of Forest Road 15. For further information see www.tripcheck.com.
There is an area closure in place in the Deschutes National Forest, due to fire activity. For more information: https://www.fs.usda.gov/alerts/deschutes/alerts-notices
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality smoke/air quality report:
Central Oregon saw some improvement in air quality Saturday, though the Milli Fire is still bringing some smoke to the region. Sisters saw the most smoke, with air quality that was unhealthy for sensitive groups. Prineville and Bend both had moderate air quality, with some smoke and haze in those communities. Madras had good air quality, as most of the smoke from the Milli Fire was drifting to the southeast. For the most current smoke conditions throughout Oregon: http://oregonsmoke.blogspot.com/
Viewing an eclipse requires proper eye protection at all times. For more information on NASA approved eclipse safety glasses visit https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety)
About the Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC)
Agency partners from Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties have come together as a Multi-Agency Coordination Center (MACC) to work across jurisdictional lines. This includes ensuring agencies have timely information and that resources are allocated appropriately to mitigate the impacts of the large influx in population.
About the Central Oregon Eclipse Joint Information Center
The JIC is staffed by public information officers from MACC agencies to provide consistent, coordinated information to the media and to Central Oregon visitors and residents. The JIC helps media, travelers and the general public with timely access to information that will allow them to make decisions in support of a safe and enjoyable experience.
Accommodation Information for People with Disabilities
To obtain this information in an alternate format such as Braille, large print, electronic formats, etc. please contact COEIN at 541-550-4888 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
And this from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management:
SALEM, Ore. -- We are just two days away from Monday's Eclipse. Priorities among residents and visitors are related to traffic conditions, wildfires and smoke and how they are affecting travel. The Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is working with our partner agencies from around the state to provide regular updates.
Saturday saw lighter traffic than expected and travelers were urged to start heading to their destinations if they were able and had a place to stay. Traffic is expected to increase leading up to Monday's event. The best advice is: Arrive early, stay put and leave late! Visit the Oregon Department of Transportation's Tripcheck.com for the most up-to-date traffic issues.
OEM has activated its Emergency Coordination Center in order to coordinate the response to the growing number of wildfires in the state. Traveler's should take precautions and know before you go. That means knowing any wildfire conditions in your area and heeding any evacuation notices from local officials. This information can be obtained by using OEM's RAPTOR tool at http://www.tinyURL.com/OregonRaptor or the Oregon Forestry Department's website http://tinyurl.com/oregonfirerestrictions.
It's important to remember that if a gas station runs out of fuel, it is only a temporary situation. The Oregon Department of Energy assures us that fuel trucks are making deliveries around the clock. Should you encounter a fuel shortage at an area gas station, consider visiting another fuel station or return to the station that was out of fuel at a later time.
Since smoke from wildfires varies by time and location, we recommend residents and visitors visit www.oregonsmoke.blogspot.com for the best and latest information about smoke conditions in your area. This web page is our multiagency site for communicating smoke information to the public. Some people -- such as those with chronic heart or lung disease, children and the elderly -- may experience health effects when the air is unhealthy. It is important to take precautions based on your individual health and the smoke levels around you.
It is vital that you use proper eye protection if you are planning to view the eclipse. If you have trouble purchasing certified eclipse safety glasses there is a simple way to make your own pinhole projector to view the eclipse. Visit the OEM Facebook page for a link to instructions on how to make a pinhole projector. That page is www.facebook.com/OMDOEM.
Please ensure that you know who to call and when. For transportation information call 511; for tourism information call 800-547-7842; for emergencies call 911 and for general information call 211 or visit 211.org. The 211.org page is a one-stop location for links to valuable information that can help travelers have a safe and enjoyable Oregon eclipse experience.