Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill and other local emergency managers are preparing for thousands of amateur astronomers to converge on the region several days before the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.
The towns of Antelope and Shaniko in the southern sector of the county lie at the northern fringe of the Path of Totality, the name given to the 67-mile-wide swath of land across the United States where experts believe people will have the best, and possibly only, opportunity to see the Moon passing between the Earth and Sun, a rare phenomenon.
Up to 40,000 eclipse seekers may wind up in Antelope and Shaniko between Aug. 18 and 21, according to statistics compiled by tourist-related organizations in Oregon.
In addition, Magill said thousands of travelers will be passing through the area on their way to Madras, which lies squarely in the path and will have 2 minutes and 2 seconds of almost total darkness about 10:19 a.m. on the day of the eclipse. Up to 75,000 visitors are expected in and around Madras.
“We’re working with multiple public agencies to sort out where everybody’s going to be and who’s going to be doing what,” said Magill. “We need to do the best possible job that we can to make sure everything’s in order now, because it’s going to be chaos.”
Included in preparedness meetings — the next one is Aug. 10 — are representatives from area fire districts, search and rescue volunteers, the Wasco County Sheriff’s Posse, Oregon State Police, North Central Public Health District, Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Forestry, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.
“The 2 minutes 2 seconds (eclipse time) will probably be the slowest it’s going to be all week,” predicts Magill.
He said patrols will be out on the Deschutes River all weekend before the eclipse, as well as checking out other places that are likely to draw campers.
“We don’t really know what we’re going to get,” he said.
The big draw to more than one million expected tourists — people will arrive in the Northwest from around the globe — is that the Aug. 21 eclipse will be the first one visible from the contiguous United States (excepting Alaska and Hawaii) since Feb. 26, 1979.
The last time a total eclipse was visible from coast to coast was on June 18, 1918.
The 2017 total eclipse will also the be the first exclusive to the U.S. since before the nation’s founding in 1776.
This week, Magill sent out letters to 200 landowners in south Wasco county, warning them to clearly post “No Trespassing” signs on properties they want left alone. They were also warned to create a firebreak to protect crops and buildings from careless smokers and illegal campfires.
Hotel rooms have been sold out in communities along the path for months, so Magill said there is a real possibility that people will try to camp wherever they see open space. Some will know that they are invading private property and some, especially people from large cities, may believe it is public resource lands.
“It will just make things easier if private property is clearly marked,” he said.
Astronomy experts have predicted the shadow of the eclipse will touch down in the north Pacific Ocean at 8:46 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 21. At that spot, the Sun will rise while totally eclipsed.
The entire shadow, known as the “umbral cone,” will then race across the surface of the water at supersonic speed until it makes land fall at about 10:15 a.m. on the Oregon beach just north of Newport. That area will experience 1 minute and 50 seconds of totality.
The centerline of the eclipse path hits solid ground about six seconds later and plunges Lincoln Beach and Depoe Bay into darkness for 1 minute and 50 seconds of totality.
At that point, the shadow races eastward and travels through population centers, forests and the deserts of Central Oregon, hitting the mountains at Madras and Warm Springs. Mitchell and Prairie City are next and then the shadow leaves Oregon just north of Ontario.
The maximum point of the eclipse will take place near Hopkinsville, Ken., at 1:20 p.m. on Aug. 21. Totality there will last for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
“It’s kind of a big deal,” said Juston Huffman, director of Wasco County Emergency Management, who is working with North Central Public Health District and other agencies to prepare for the large influx of people.
Huffman said there is going to be a lot of traffic on area roadways and congestion is expected given that there is only one road leading in and out of most rural communities.
“We’re going to be kind of a thoroughfare,” said Huffman. “Traffic could end up being a nightmare, but we can’t stop this so we just have to make the best of it.”
He and Tanya Wray, who works at the health district and is the coordinator for Wasco County Medical Reserve Corps, are trying to get the word out that area residents should stock up food, water and medicine in case of a shortage, or a delay in the delivery of supplies.
There could also be a scarcity of cash at ATM machines, so people need to carry money in case they need something from a place that doesn’t accept credit cards.
Huffman and Wray are also trying to get word out to urban populations that they need to bring extra medicines, food and water to rural locations, where limited services are available.
“The people who are coming here aren’t used to our rural landscape and way of life,” said Huffman.
Another potential problem that people traveling to an eclipse viewing site could face is an overload on the phone system, which could make connections more difficult.
Huffman said people should not rely solely on online maps to find their way to and from a destination.
Wray said people camping outdoors need to remember that summer temperatures are typically high in Central Oregon during the month of August, so they should have plenty of water and sunscreen on hand.
‘We need to do the best possible job that we can to make sure everything’s in order now, because it’s going to be chaos.’
In addition, she said there are rattlesnakes in desert areas so people should tuck a snack bite kit in with their first aid supplies.
To watch the eclipse safely, Wray said people will need special glasses that block harmful light from damaging their vision. These glasses are available at numerous retail stores and online shopping sites.
Huffman said that when the date for the eclipse gets closer, information that area residents need to know will be posted on the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page.
“We are encouraging emergency managers to add information as it becomes available,” he said.
Huffman asks people to sign up with Citizen Alert to get text messages from the sheriff’s office about road closures, accidents, evacuations or any other type of emergency. A link to register your phone can be found on the county’s website, co.wasco.or.us, through the emergency info icon.
Huffman can be reached at 541-506-2790 or via email at email@example.com. Wray is available at 541-506-2631 or tanyaw @co.wasco.or.us.