Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Sunday, August 13, 2017 1:00 am

Planning for eclipse is its own big event

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

A few days ago I received an email from a Fort Wayne resident whose family has spent the last two years planning a trip to witness the total eclipse, which will occur Aug. 21.

I won't identify the family – it's never a good idea to announce when someone will be out of town.

But the family's preparations provide some good insight into what people might be getting themselves into if they head out to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event.

A family member who is an astronomer decided a little town in Idaho will be the best place to witness the eclipse because it is likely the sky will be clear. They rented an Airbnb there – two years ago – and that same month every house rental and hotel was booked solid.

Another family member with some survivalist instincts recommended they bring their own toilet paper, nonperishable food and water.

Not bad advice.

For now, the family's plan is to arrive early, stock up at a local grocery and haul everything in coolers to the little town of 2,000, where they'll wait for the sun to go out.

Because they will be arriving early, the family will eat in restaurants in the days before the eclipse. But one restaurant where they had reservations called to tell them they will be closing Aug. 17 because they are certain they will run out of food.

It makes one wonder, will the gas stations run out of gas, too?

In places like Idaho, various officials are apprehensive about what is going to happen. Good for business? Sure. Or will it be too good?

Some officials have said 500,000 to 1 million people might flood the state's small towns to see the totality.

Other officials have said the small cities along the path of the eclipse should each expect 20,000 visitors.

A more basic concern is, will there be enough toilets for all of these people to go to the bathroom?

In Indiana, people aren't panicking, but they are expecting lots of traffic heading south. They have nothing to compare this to, said Scott Manning, strategic communications director for the Indiana Department of Transportation.

No one has made any estimates of how many Hoosiers might head to Kentucky or Tennessee or Illinois, not to mention how many people from Michigan might head south, cutting through Indiana.

But INDOT does have some concerns. Last week it put out a news release advising people that you can't camp in rest areas and offering some safety tips.

Don't try to take pictures of the eclipse while you're driving. Don't stop on the interstate to look at the eclipse. Don't wear eclipse glasses while driving, the department is advising drivers.

Meanwhile safety messages will be posted on signs along the highway to keep motorists who aren't shooting selfies alert.

“Safety is our primary concern,” Manning said.

The real worry isn't the people migrating to the mostly small towns in the eclipse's path. They'll likely trickle in over the space of a few days.

The big worry is when the eclipse is over and everyone heads home at once, Manning said.

“Some are more concerned about the exodus,” he said.

Vacation note

Starting this week I am going on an extended vacation, and this space, and the column, will go dark.

Frank Gray has for the last 19 years reflected on his and others' experiences in columns for The Journal Gazette.