(Opinion piece, Eugene Register-Guard, 28 August 2016).

In less than a year, a long awaited total solar eclipse, perhaps the most beautiful sight in nature, will make landfall in Oregon, crossing 14 states in all before leaving in South Carolina. While the entire country will see some portion of the Sun covered by the Moon, the path of totality, where the Sun is completely covered, will be only 60-70 miles wide. Here in Oregon, totality will last from a few seconds at the edge of the path to 2 minutes, 9 seconds on the centerline at the Idaho border. The path is shown below.

Oregon is one of the best places climatologically to see this eclipse.   Many will come here from all over the world, an economic boon to the state and an excellent educational opportunity.  Watching day turn rapidly into twilight, seeing the black disk of the Moon block the Sun, allowing us to view the Sun’s thin corona, bright stars and planets visible, will be unforgettable.

Sadly, many will view the eclipse on television or not at all, afraid of non-existent “damaging rays” that occur during totality.  Ironically, no eye protection is necessary to view a totally eclipsed Sun.  Others will worry that the eclipse will cause natural disasters, wars, miscarriages, and a host of other myths, rather than just being a rare, beautiful natural occurrence.

The rules are simple: be on the totality path at the right time, and if the Sun is not obscured by clouds, you will see a beautiful spectacle for perhaps 2 minutes.  The most important rule is that any time part of the Sun is visible, you must use adequate eye protection: mylar eclipse glasses, #14 welding filters, commercial solar filters for optics, or indirect projection, NOT X-Ray or other film, sunglasses or staring at the Sun. Eclipse glasses are cheap and easily available. In Eugene, the eclipse is 99.3% total; the whole event must be viewed with eye protection. The southern limit of totality is a line from Waldport to Sisters. Viewers in Sweet Home and Finley WR will see a total eclipse; Monroe and Marcola will not.

I hope many who have never seen totality will see this eclipse and be as thrilled as I have been the sixteen times I have stood under the Moon’s shadow.

I have concerns about how we will handle perhaps half a million or more visitors to Oregon’s eclipse path. The last total eclipse here was February 26, 1979; far more people are interested in viewing one today, especially in summer.  Traveling to this eclipse at the last minute will be difficult.  Eclipses don’t wait and don’t care about the carrying capacity of roads.  Eastern Oregon, a prime eclipse viewing site, has limited road access, hotel rooms and campgrounds.

Once on the eclipse track, across the state, it is likely many will be more focused on finding a place to set up to view the eclipse than traffic, other drivers, or private property.  I-5 crosses the track for nearly 70 miles.  There will be the usual heavy commercial traffic, some who aren’t aware an eclipse is occurring may be startled by sudden darkness at about 10:20, some who will look while driving, others who slow down or pull off the road, get out, and look.  This is a bad combination.

Eclipses are weather dependent.  If there is smoke, common this time of year, or if a weather system makes parts of the eclipse track foggy or cloudy, many viewers will be moving at the last minute.  Count on it.  I have moved my site during five eclipses.  People pay a lot of money for eclipse tours and expect to be successful; cloudiness may cause craziness.  Paying attention to weather forecasts will be important.

Oregon is literally totally first in 2017.  The eclipse is coming and we can’t change, move, or control it.  Let’s see this wonderful event, but let’s also plan for the days and minutes prior to the eclipse.  We must protect not only our eyes from harm, our minds from those who claim an eclipse is something scary or frightening, which it isn’t, but ourselves from accidents and ill-fortune in a very infrastructure-stressed Oregon on a most special day: August 21, 2017.

Michael S. Smith, retired neurologist, member of the Eugene Astronomical Society, has seen 16 total eclipses from the ground, sea and air on or over all continents and both poles. 

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