On the morning of August 21, 2017, the bright sky will turn black over a large swath of the United States, thanks to the first total solar eclipse to reach our shores since 1979. For millions of Americans, this means taking a trip to the section of the country that will see the eclipse in full glory. Those of us that are luckily enough to live near the Columbia River, we are just a few miles from the path of totality (a 100% covered sun). While traffic will be crazy with large crowds everywhere, you can still get out and enjoy this moment with your family. Remember, unless you are in the line of totality, it will not be completely dark, so staying home in Clark County will not yield the ultimate eclipse-watching results.

Solar Eclipse
The path of the eclipse splits Oregon in half, giving you many options of places to drive and watch. Photo credit: NASA

The eclipse makes its first landfall on the Oregon coast, with the line of totality hitting between Lincoln City and Newport at 10:15 a.m. Moving at about 1,600 mph, the eclipse will travel southeast for about 2,500 miles across the width of the country, offering millions an amazing sight. The sun is 400 times wider than the moon and 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon, meaning that when things “line up” just right, we can observe a solar eclipse that makes the moon and sun appear to be the same size in the sky. The good news is that the eclipse will be crossing Oregon, but Oregon state officials expect over a million people to head to Oregon for the eclipse. Those looking to drive down to the eclipse path should be aware that there will be unprecedented crowding on all roads and highways with additional overcrowded parks and public lands.

So how can your family witness the eclipse?

You have a few options to witness this historic event. It’s best, if you can arrive in Oregon in the days leading up to the eclipse. If you have to leave the morning of, be prepared to get up early. If you do not already have a campsite or a hotel reservation in the eclipse area, you will not be able to find one. To avoid most of the traffic, Oregon’s Department of Transportation is recommending everyone leave early and head home late. Departing from your home at 3:00 a.m. is going to give you a better chance at getting to the line of totality and maybe even finding somewhere legal to park by 10:00 a.m. You could leave later, but regular commuter traffic combined with eclipse chasers is going to cause some crazy snarled traffic and extremely slow drive times. During the 1979 eclipse it took three hours to drive the 90 miles from Oregon City to The Dalles before we had the population boom and traffic problems in the region that we have today.

For those not in the line of totality, glasses will help enable seeing the edges of the sun peak out from around the moon. Photo credit: AJ Mangoba

The two most popular roadways are Interstate 5 and Highway 101. These two areas are going to be challenging for eclipse-watchers for a few reasons. If you head to the coast via the 101, there is a strong likelihood that fog or light clouds will be covering the skies, which may impact visibility of the eclipse. I-5 will also be extremely crowded and slow. For these reasons, you may have better luck driving on an alternate route. For example, you may have a better chance finding someplace to see the full eclipse by heading to The Dalles on the Oregon side of the Columbia River and going south on Highway 197 toward Madras.

If you do decide to drive to this amazing event, besides leaving early, please remember to fill up your gas tank before and after the eclipse. Traffic might be bad enough that you could even run out of gas while sitting on a major highway. Also, bring plenty of food and water in your car. Restaurants and convenience stores will be slammed along the entire route to and from the eclipse. Go to the store the day before, pack up a cooler and be ready for a full day of picnicking.

For those staying at home, we remind you that unless you are in the line of totality, the sky will not be completely dark. The sun is exceptionally bright even if it is partially covered, so the farther away you are from the center of the eclipse, the lighter the sky will stay. Those that are not near the path of totality at all, will not see a darkened sky.

Solar Eclipse
Protect your eyes during the eclipse, as the sun can cause serious damage. Photo credit: NPS

NASA has this warning for those watching the eclipse: “You should never look at the sun directly without equipment that is specifically designed for looking at the sun. Even using binoculars or a telescope, you could severely damage your eyes or even go blind! Solar eclipses themselves are safe. But looking at anything as bright as the sun is NOT safe without proper protection. And no, sunglasses do NOT count.”

You can make your own pinhole projector, or head to your local Fred Meyers and pick up a pair of glasses for a couple of bucks. For even more fun, watch for the extremely rare shadow bands that are visible before and after the eclipse. You can see how much of the eclipse your house will see with this link.

Worried things might not work out for you to see this year’s solar eclipse? There are places to watch it online in order to see it live-streamed, no matter where you live. If you are super bummed out that you will not be able to see this amazing event this year, you do have other options to see eclipses in the region. The next annular eclipse (known as a ring of fire eclipse) to come close to our region will take place in October of 2023. It will cross Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. And, another full solar eclipse will hit the United States in 2024.

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