The dark side of the eclipse

Eclipse 2017: Be prepared, be safe

Photo credit: Phil Hart via NASA.gov

You may have heard something about an upcoming eclipse.

Seriously, this incredible phenomenon certainly is generating the information and excitement due an event of this magnitude. The educational and economic opportunities appear to be endless. But the solar eclipse is not without its potential challenges. Here are some tips to avoid being caught on the dark side of the eclipse.

An estimated 80 percent of Americans live within 600 miles of the eclipse path that includes a wide swath through Missouri from the northwest corner of the state down to just north of the Bootheel. As a result, folks from across the U.S. are expected to descend on the state. August is an ideal time for a brief, before-school-starts vacation, so if you live or operate a business within 100 miles of the eclipse path, be prepared for:

  • Very heavy traffic.
    MoDOT and several city governments predict traffic the weekend before and on Monday, Aug. 21 to be heavy in almost every part of Missouri except the far north east and south. These range from heavy to very heavy around Kansas City and the entire I-70 corridor through Columbia to absolutely immobile south of St. Louis. Expect I-70, I-55, I-64 and other major highways to be all but paralyzed, especially during and after the eclipse.
  • Think it can’t happen here? Horror stories of paralyzed cities during eclipses say otherwise. For instance, excellent views of a 1995 eclipse were to be had about 40 minutes north of Bangkok, but return trips took as long as 10 hours. Similarly, in a 1991 eclipse, Mexico actually closed its borders to anyone without a hotel reservation because it couldn’t handle the traffic. Be prepared to wait it out.
  • You and your employees may also find it challenging to leave and come back during lunch or dinner breaks the entire week before and the day of the eclipse. Encourage a company potluck or brown bag lunch.
  • Stay informed about traffic, too. Tune to your local station broadcasting traffic information, news and commentary of the eclipse throughout the weekend and on Monday.
  • Temporary gas shortages.
    If you have a business, encourage your employees to have a full tank of gas before Aug. 18. In the past, similar crowd events, especially those held in more rural areas, have shown temporary gas shortages do occur. You, your family and your staff need to be able to get around, so fill it up!
  • Possible power surges.
    Consider that a great deal more power is generated from solar sources than during previous eclipses. While the impact is considered entirely manageable, anyone more dependent on solar energy may see a precipitous drop and then surge in power during the event. When the moon covers the sun, it’s estimated that the power supply may drop by up to 75 percent.
  • More cash transactions, challenges with credit and debit card transactions.
    Increased volume will almost certainly change the way you do business. Electronic credit and debit systems can and regularly do become overloaded on heavy shopping days. Be prepared to take credit card numbers the old fashioned way, on paper, with CCV codes and customers’ ZIP codes. Make sure this data is kept in a safe, secured location, away from prying eyes. Consider setting up an old-fashioned till to accommodate cash transactions, too.
  • Infrastructure challenges.
    While demand on local infrastructure typically falls to local governmental authorities, consider the demands they will be facing in terms of water, restrooms (including portable ones) and waste disposal. If your company serves as a contractor to support infrastructure work, contact your local government and ensure you are on the list of resources. And, if your business in in the traffic patterns for walkers, bikers or riders, you’re going to need extra trash receptacle of your own.
  • Security.
    When more people converge on a community or region, we have to accept the bad with the good. Some criminals will see this as a great opportunity to commit more crimes in a crowded and compact area. You may need more security for your business, so make plans to have those folks on hand so you don’t become a victim of theft or worse. Remember that public safety resources will be tapped out on traffic and other crowd control challenges.
  • Cell service disruption.
    With an unprecedented amount of people expected in the path of the solar eclipse (statewide estimates range as high as 4 million), trouble with cell phone and data coverage is almost guaranteed. With so many extra phones being brought into the region, it’s a very real possibility that some areas will be unable to keep up with the demand on wireless cell and data networks, particularly with everyone taking photos and videos on their phones.But preparations are being made to solve those expected problems. AT&T announced it will boost its network and employ a Cell on Wheels, or COW, which is essentially a mobile cell tower capable of providing fully functional service. These are frequently used in areas that have experienced natural disasters. AT&T will take COWs to Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph; Cosmo Park in Columbia; the Gasconade County Fairgrounds in Owensville; and the Washington Town and Country Fairgrounds in Washington, Mo. Be prepared for emergency 911 or *55 from a cell phone to be affected with the increased number of people as well. Find your local non-emergency numbers, such as hospital, ambulance service or police now. Also, expect urgent visitor requests to use your business landline. Decide now how you want to handle these requests, and tell your employees, too.
  • A massive leap in customers.
    Columbia is predicting 400,000 visitors, St. Joseph 100,000, Jefferson City 50,000 and St. Louis 400,000. If anything, these estimates may be low. The last total solar eclipse that swept across the continental U.S. in 1979 only clipped the northwest (Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, Montana) but reportedly attracted very large crowds. This eclipse has been infinitely better publicized in diverse media and sweeps across a much larger portion of the continental United States, so it’s fair to say most people in the U.S. know about it. Informal surveys of Columbia, St. Joseph and other towns shows that hotel rooms have been sold out for months. One community reports it’s been sold out since 2013! The population of the U.S. was about 225 million in 1979. Today, it’s closing in on 327 million.
  • Supplier shortages.
    Some major suppliers nationwide are reshuffling scheduling because of the expected heavy traffic the weekend before and on Monday, Aug. 21. If you haven’t already done so, talk to your suppliers now. Order enough inventory to account for more visitors during the weekend and Monday. And accept that delivery trucks may not be able to get to your business the day of the eclipse.
  • Eye safety.
    The jury is out on whether staring at an eclipse with the naked eye causes permanent eye damage. Temporary blindness and related optical problems seem to be more common. But why take chances?
  • The only guaranteed safe way to look directly at the sun, uneclipsed or eclipsed, is through pinhole boxes, welder’s masks or special-purpose solar filters known as eclipse glasses and available many places. Using cameras, telescopes, binoculars, homemade filters or sunglasses, even very dark ones, won’t shield your eyes.

See the American Astronomical Society’s video on safe gazing practices, “How to Safely Watch a Solar Eclipse:”

Preparing in advance and following these precautions will ensure this once-in-a-lifetime total eclipse will provide memories for a lifetime and a cash influx, too.

Map of the eclipse path across Missouri

Path of the eclipse across Missouri

Path of the eclipse across Missouri (from Eclipse2017.org).

Here is a Google map on EclipseWise.com with excellent zooming capabilities.

Preparing for the total eclipse in Missouri, Aug. 21, 2017

On August 21, 2017, just after 1 p.m. CDT, a total solar eclipse will be viewable across much of Missouri.

The Show-Me State is right in the middle of the eclipse path. It’s the first total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. since 1979, the last eclipse in Missouri since 1869. Columbia and St. Louis haven’t seen one since before Columbus set foot in the New World (1442).

This once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse presents an excellent opportunity and significant challenges for businesses, especially those in small towns, as the eclipse sweeps across Missouri from northwest to southeast, narrowly missing Kansas City and St. Louis but dead center or nearly so for many other cities and towns:

  • St. Joseph, with a totality, or longest duration of the sun being blocked by the moon, of 2 minutes, 38 seconds
  • Marshall, totality of 2 min., 39 sec.
  • Boonville, also 2 min., 39 sec.
  • Columbia, 2 min., 37 sec.
  • Jefferson City, 2 min, 29 sec.
  • Festus 2 min., 37 sec.
  • Ste. Genevieve, 2 min., 40 sec.

Here’s a complete list of towns in the eclipse path with expected duration of totality.