Solar eclipses can be predicted thousands of years before they happen, but no one is quite sure what to expect in Platte County because of the rare celestial event.
On the afternoon of Monday, Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will occur in the United States for the first time since 1979 with the last one to span the entire continent in 99 years. The approximate 70-mile wide path totality where the entire sun will be blacked out by the moon runs from Oregon to South Carolina .
According to NASA, 12.2 million Americans live in the path of the total eclipse, including all of Platte County.
Totality in Platte City will last for less than 2 minutes from 1:07 p.m. to 1:09 p.m. The entire duration of the eclipse will be from 11:40 a.m. to 2:35 p.m.
Times for the rest of Platte County will be very similar. Duration times for specific locations can be tracked on NASA’s website.
Experiencing a total eclipse where you live happens about once in 375 years, so preparing for the event will be unscientific.
According to the Mid-America Regional Council, more than a million visitors could travel into the 300 mile path the eclipse will take through Missouri to witness the event. Emergency management agencies, transportation officials, local governments and organizations like the American Red Cross are planning for traffic problems and other challenges that may be associated with the eclipse.
Some of the warnings advise taking fairly drastic steps to be prepared for all possibilities.
“Missourians should make plans early to determine where they will view the eclipse, where they will stay and how best to avoid the extra traffic congestion,” MARC wrote in a news release.
In Platte County, many hotels are already booked out with maximum occupancy expected at even more over the weekend, according to director of Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau Jennifer Goering. Add in a long-range forecast calling for potentially cloudy conditions in the area, and trying to determine the extent of the actual inconveniences remains difficult to predict.
“This is the great unknown event,” Goering said. “Based on the actual weather and cloud cover on Monday, Aug. 21st, we don’t know how many people will actually watch the eclipse in Platte County or travel through on their way to a final destination.”
The four school districts in Platte County have taken various approaches to handling the concerns.
North Platte R-I announced a cancelation of classes for that day last month, while Platte County and Park Hill have urged students to come to school that day. West Platte has sent out a permission slip for adults or guardians to sign, absolving the district of any liability associated with viewing the eclipse.
The districts plan to use the event as a learning experience and have acquired the special solar eclipse viewing glasses for all students and staff. Platte County R-3 has advised parents of the ability to participate in the viewing at the elementary level as well as an opt out if they don’t wish to have their kids participate due to safety concerns.
The districts also plan to practice with the children on the importance of using the glasses at all times and warning about the potential permanent damage that could result from staring directly into the sun.
Experts remind that the only safe way to look directly at the sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers. People who normally wear glasses should put the eclipse glasses over their regular glasses.
All eclipse glasses should come from a reputable vendor.
Looking through a camera lens or binoculars without a solar filter is not advised, and anyone planning to take photos should seek expert advice on equipment needed and techniques to use. Failure to adhere to safety warnings could result in injury.
Others looking for a place to view the eclipse can consider Park University or Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) land.
Park University has already moved two eclipse related events due to projected crowds. On Sunday, Aug. 20, a discussion featuring retired NASA educational programs officer and 1961 Park graduate Dr. Lynn Bondurant will be held at Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel on the Parkville, Mo. campus.
The talk starts at 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended to ensure seating.
The Monday solar eclipse watch party, billed as “Total Eclipse of the Park,” will be at Julian Field — the main soccer complex adjacent to the university’s west entrance — on the Parkville campus. The event will start at 12:30 p.m., and a limited number of eclipse viewing glasses will be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.
North Platte’s Switch Track Mall will also host an informational session ahead of the eclipse on Sunday, Aug. 20 at the building on Main Street. An expert will be on hand with a solar telescope and drone to provide demonstrations while also discussing safety for viewing the eclipse.
Elaine Greer, owner of the business, plans to provide water and will also offer other refreshments for sale.
Officials in Weston, Mo. are preparing as if thousands of people will descend on the small town. Many businesses have sold out events, and the Weston Board of Aldermen advised the city to shut down part of Main Street to allow for a watch party of the eclipse.
Extra portable toilets will be brought in to help accommodate the predicted crowd.
MDC noted that the eclipse can be viewed at 54 areas that lie in the solar eclipse’s primary path across Missouri, including Little Bean Marsh in northern Platte County and Platte Falls Conservation Area just east of Platte City. Visitors will have the chance to enjoy regular outdoor activities in an extraordinary way while offering a chance to observe wildlife participating in out-of-the-ordinary behaviors.
“Daylight is a cue for birds throughout their day to wake up in the morning and return to roost at night,” said MDC state ornithologist Sarah Kendrick. “As the sky becomes darker during the eclipse, some birds may become confused by the lack of light and could exhibit odd behaviors such as going quiet, thinking that night is falling.”
Many of the featured MDC areas also offer an escape from crowded cities and light pollution, and all of the recommended areas have restrooms for visitor convenience. While all areas are free to access and open to the public, some may require visitors to obtain a special-use permit for group camping.
For an interactive map of the eclipse’s path across Missouri, approximate times to watch, a full list of recommended conservation areas for viewing and details on each area, visit the MDC website at mdc.mo.gov/eclipse.
Regardless of destination, government agencies have issued warnings about potential travel issues.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) urges motorists not to stop along the interstates or park on the shoulders. Travelers should arrive early and plan to use headlights — don’t rely on automatic headlights — during the eclipse.
Motorists should be prepared for extra congestion before, during and after the eclipse, and pedestrian traffic could increase along smaller roads with the possibility of cars being parked in out-of-the-ordinary places. MSHP wants people to avoid travel along the main path of the eclipse during the event.
“If you are traveling for the event, leave early, stay put as long as possible and plan to stay after the end of the eclipse to avoid the peak traffic,” said Missouri Department of Transportation chief engineer Ed Hassinger.
According to MARC, preparedness for travelers includes having a full tank of gas and water inside the vehicle. Other suggestions include an emergency kit (water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, infant supplies if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information).
Cell phone service could also be affected if the number of travelers in the area overwhelms towers.
Determining exactly how many people come to the area could take a while. According to Platte County treasurer Rob Willard, sales tax numbers for August should be available in October, and any large increase in revenue could potentially be linked to the total solar eclipse.