Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I will survive the Great American Solar Eclipse!

By Bart Treece

I've never seen a solar eclipse, but I hear from those who have that there are no words to accurately describe just how cool it really is. Imagine if you will, a sunny day turning dark; the streetlights kick on and it seems like nighttime for at least a couple minutes! Now the last time this happened in the northwest, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor was approaching the top of the music charts in 1979. Indeed this solar eclipse is back from outer space, and we've pulled together a guide to help you survive a potential cosmic traffic jam, avoid crying and hold your head up high. Say it with me: "I will survive, hey, hey!"
This Associated Press map from the Feb. 14, 1979 San Bernardino County Sun shows the path
of totality the last time a solar eclipse was visible in our part of the country.

What we know
As with any large-scale event, planning ahead is key. The eclipse is expected to happen on Monday, Aug. 21 but emergency services and transportation agencies are anticipating an influx of people Aug. 18 – 22. The state of Oregon is expecting roughly a million people to travel to the path of totality. These are places where the entire sun is blocked from view by the moon for about two minutes. The unknown variables are: Where are those folks coming from, where are they going, and when are they leaving? The answer is, we really don't know. Some are expected from within the Beaver State, while others are presumably coming from Washington, Idaho, California and even British Columbia. It's tough to tell with certainty, and the timing of this is hard to pin down.
This map from NASA shows where the path of totality is expected to be when the solar eclipse happens on Aug. 21 of this year.

More than a one-day deal
Sure, the eclipse will last a little over two minutes on Monday, Aug. 21, but people hitting the road will likely create additional congestion leading up to the event, and potentially even afterward as they try to go home. Morning traffic on southbound I-5 between Vancouver, Washington into Portland is typically slow-going and regularly backs up for miles. Now imagine thousands more added into the mix resulting in even bigger backups and longer delays – this could get really gnarly. Other portions of I-5 could see unusual congestion, as well as other routes in the state such as:
  • I-82 – Benton County
  • US 97 – Klickitat County
  • SR 14 – Columbia River Gorge
  • US 197 – Dallesport
  • I-205 – Clark County to Portland
  • SR 433 – The Lewis and Clark Bridge in Longview
  • SR 4 – Longview to Naselle
  • SR 401 – Naselle to Dismal Nitch
  • US 101 – Ilwaco to Astoria
Of course, this all depends on what people decide to do. Waking up early to leave the Seattle area to head south the morning of the eclipse is not a good idea. The word from our friends at the Oregon Department of Transportation for folks making the trip is to "Arrive Early, Stay Put and Leave Late."

Here are some other thing to keep in mind
  • Safety first: Unless it's an emergency, do not pull over to the shoulder of the highway. And no, viewing the solar eclipse does not constitute an emergency. However, you can inadvertently create one: hot vehicle undercarriage + dry grass = potential brush fire. Let's avoid that, K?
  • Plan ahead: Make sure you're prepared for several days, and your vehicle is in good working condition to avoid a potential breakdown.
  • Know before you go: Before you hit the road, check our mobile app, travel alerts and traffic cameras to see how things are moving. When you're behind the wheel, have a passenger with fast thumbs do the work.
We can still see a partial eclipse in Washington, so if you decide to stay put, please find somewhere safe and remember to wear those funky eclipse glasses to protect your eyes – but not while you're behind the wheel! Because remember, you still have your life to live. You will survive!


Unknown said...

You WSDOT people sure do provide some interesting and user-friendly advice and information. I enjoy reading it even when I'm not planning a foray "south of the boarder".

Unknown said...

Good read! We are taking the fam to Madras down 97. Traveling by night, it will be cooler and less people! Found camping at the Airport of all places! Sat-Tues! Totality people once in a lifetime opportunity!

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