Darkness Before Noon continued

By Roman Weil

Why bother to see the “totality”? The astronomy website continues:

“Likening a partial eclipse to a total eclipse is like comparing almost dying to dying.

“I know that [seeing] 48 percent sounds like a lot. It isn’t. You won’t even notice your surroundings getting dark. And it doesn’t matter whether the partial eclipse your location is 48, 58, or 98 percent. Only totality reveals the true celestial spectacle: the diamond ring, the Sun’s glorious corona, strange colors in our sky, and seeing stars in the daytime.”

The hobbyists, coming from all over the world, will have trouble finding totality observation points that are both accessible by ground transportation and air and have a low probability of

“I signed up a ticket seller to provide web sites
for selling reserved parking spaces.”

cloud cover. Approximately five places in the U.S. satisfy those two constraints: Boise and Idaho Falls, Idaho; Jackson and Casper, Wyoming; and St Joseph, Missouri. Other places have splendid weather and hard access, Madras, Oregon being the prime example. Other places have splendid access and iffy weather, like Kansas City, St Louis, Nashville, and Charleston.

Eclipse perches. So far, people in some of the key spots are “oblivious” to the possible influx of “eclipsers.”

Eclipse perches. So far, people in some of the key spots are “oblivious” to the possible influx of “eclipsers.” You can see more details in roadmaps that include good viewing conditions here.

The gathering momentum

A brother who has been to two TSEs confirms the existence of thousands of umbraphiles. He and another sister have planned to stay in Bend, Oregon and drive 47 miles on the morning of Aug 21 to Madras, Oregon. That town of 6,000, expecting over 15,000 visitors, reports all hotels have been sold out for two years. Madras town officials are grappling with the impending traffic and parking problems.

The Astronomy magazine editor who runs the www.fpsci.com website has led 10 TSE tours and is already planning to host 100,000 people at the airport in St Joseph, Missouri, which he has rented — a whole airport. Being there, off the center line by five miles, might cost on the order of ten seconds out of two minutes and twenty seconds of viewing time. Idaho Falls and Casper have larger airports than does Jackson, but theirs are not so close to the center line. The mayor of Idaho Falls has put someone in charge of TSE as one of her many duties. If you want to plan a trip and not run into ‘sold-out’ signs everywhere, try there. Let me know what you find.

Another tour director who specializes in TSE tours has scheduled five: three for viewings around Jackson, one around Madras, and one north of Nashville. Each is part of a tour lasting about a week and costs about $5,000/person.

I signed up a ticket seller, Altitude Tickets of Denver (think Ticketmaster) to provide web sites for selling reserved parking spaces. See www.altitudetickets.com/TSE17.

Shadowing Jackson

Of the good places to view, Jackson has the best additional tourist attractions. Current estimates are that 25,000 extra umbraphiles will come that weekend, on top of the 25,000 tourists who usually come through that weekend anyhow. Jackson’s regular population is about 10,000. The Chairman of the Astronomy department of the University of Colorado is bringing more than 100 people. He has the most cost effective tour I’ve seen.

As of this summer, however, most of Jackson was oblivious. I now ask every local person I meet if they know the significance of the date 8/21/17. As of Labor Day I hadn’t met one who did, though the number has gone up a bit since. One guy I know asked me at a dinner party why a tour guide wanted to reserve all 22 of his motel rooms for a weekend two years away. The more I investigate, the more I’m skeptical of the crowd estimates, which may be too high, but although I think 10,000 extra is more likely right, even that number will choke the town, already crowded with August vacationers.

I’ve found only a half a dozen Jackson venues that are planning for the onslaught. The fanciest hotel is charging $2,400/night with five night minimum. The Jackson Hole Golf and Country Club has elaborate party and tent plans. It is near the airport and might partner with Delta or United to fly in charters and have the passengers come the club for viewing and lunch, before flying out, since in Jackson, the TSE is 11:35am. I now expect that United (from Denver) or Delta (from Salt Lake City) will fly in during the morning, unload; and fetch in the afternoon. If not the airlines, charter flight operators will do it. The director of airport operations reports that airplane parking spots are in short supply, but not landing slots, so extra planes will need to land, dump passengers, take off, and return later. Jackson is good for this as the center line of the eclipse path, where the totality of the eclipse has the longest duration, literally passes over the airport.

When I realized how little Jackson knew about this, I wrote the Mayor, whom a colleague had worked with, and suggested that if she didn’t already have a task force to deal with the chaos that will descend that weekend, she should get one. She didn’t, but she now has an unofficial one comprising me and a local retailer who is a serious amateur astronomer. I started work around July 1. I’ve now had discussions with the Jackson chiefs of Police, Fire, and Emergency Planning, and communication with the Director of the airport and the boss of the local golf and tennis club. This has let me meet real people, not just the rich who vacation here and go to the concerts.

I’ve also had conversations, via email, with authorities in Casper, Wyoming, who have been working on this for more than two years, and with the mayor of Idaho Falls, a former academic at Brookings who’d never heard of it, said she had no spare resources to deal with it, and was grateful for my suggestion that she contact the local astronomy club and the city manager of Madras, Oregon.

After working with a report our task force did in August, the mayor of Jackson now has the task of deciding which issues to have the town council debate. The Chief of Police has asked me to defer to the elected officials before I do anything about vision protection. (My idea is to alert the regional managers of the two supermarket chains and suggest they buy 10,000 of the vision shades/glasses (for less than $5,000) and give them away as promotions. The manufacturers customarily print advertising material on the shades. )

Traffic Jams and Sunglass Shortages

As the date approaches, you’ll be inundated with news about the TSE I’ll bet that in any city within the totality band, traffic will come to a complete halt during the totality. Moreover, I think authorities will plan for that and alert the public that a siren will go off just before. On hearing that, pull over to leave room for emergency vehicles. Stop. Get out and view. About five minutes later, another siren will sound saying all clear to resume. I’d not be surprised if a uniform policy is agreed to so that national broadcasts tell everyone the same thing.

A public health problem will be vision protection. Once the moon starts to cover the sun, about 1.25 hours before the total eclipse, it becomes not painful to look at the sun. But even then, the

Eclipse protectors. Roman hopes local markets will promote their use, but says the US may have a shortage.

Eclipse protectors. Roman hopes local markets will promote their use, but says the US may have a shortage.

infra-red rays from the sun will permanently damage the retina. YOU MUST NOT LOOK AT THE SUN without proper lenses. Such lenses, bought in bulk, cost less than $0.30 per person. They will be ubiquitous and instructions to use them will be gratingly repetitive. School children, I’ll bet, will be instructed to browbeat their parents into wearing them.

The U.S. as a whole may well have a shortage of the protection devices. The leading manufacturer has a capacity between now and then of about 200 million units, but an estimated 250 to 300 million people will look, most of them at the dangerous partial eclipse.

As for me, I am not an eclipsomaniac. I have had no interest in viewing eclipses. Inevitably, I’ll arrange to view it, but viewing had nothing to do with my burgeoning interest. It will be a fine occasion to gather family and friends (mini-reunion, anyone?)

I have made arrangements to rent my favorite Jackson restaurant for a post TSE celebration. Some of the umbraphiles report that the celebration party afterwards is a highlight. The restaurant has ample outdoor viewing spaces unobstructed by trees. It has the further benefit of being on one side of a high hill. (One is careful about using the word mountain when the Grand Tetons are in view nearby.) One can get to the other side of the hill in less than 20 minutes, important because the weather experts tell me that the air currents blowing against one side of a hill, being deflected upwards and carrying clouds with them, increase the likelihood that one side or the other of the hill will be clear. Further, they assure me, the forecasts about clear/cloudy skies are accurate 36 hours in advance.


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