9 solar eclipse safety tips & risk concerns you need to know for Aug. 21
The United States will experience its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse since 1918, on Monday, August 21.
An estimated 500 million people across North America will be impacted as the moon passes between the sun and Earth in the 70-mile wide path of the total eclipse.
The path of totality will track across the U.S. from the Northwest to the Southeast through these states: Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The shadow outside that track will affect North and Central America, parts of South America and northwestern Europe.
The first point of contact will be at Lincoln Beach, Oregon, at 9:05 a.m. PDT. Totality begins there at 10:16 a.m. PDT. Over the next hour and a half, it will cross through all 12 states. The total eclipse will end near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:48 p.m. EDT.
From there, the lunar shadow finally leaves the U.S. at 4:09 p.m. EDT.
In the path of totality, the sun will be blocked for about 2 minutes and the sun’s hidden solar corona — its outer atmosphere — will become visible and create eerie diamond rings of light, weather permitting. NASA describes it as one of nature’s most awesome sights.
Travel concerns & more
How will the total solar eclipse impact drivers, observers and communities? Keep reading for safety tips and possible risk management issues many American's may experience on Monday:
Even as the major cellphone companies temporarily upgrade service, there are no guarantees cell service will be available since the best places to see the solar eclipse on Aug. 21 are largely in rural areas with normally spotty coverage. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
1. Last-minute travel is discouraged.
If you have plans to travel, arrive a day or two early, suggests Bryan Brewer, author of the first edition of "Eclipse: History. Science. Awe." Then stay put, as last-minute travel may be difficult on public roadways.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to your destination throughout the weekend. Traffic will be heavy with large crowds going to and from events all weekend.
Related: Washington state moves to outlaw distracted driving
Many small towns within the path of the eclipse expect their infrastructure and community services to be stretched to the limit during the event, says the U.S. Department of the Interior. Be early and patient. Don’t expect cell-phone reception as it's already spotty in rural areas and may be overtaxed by the high number of users.
Heavy traffic is predicted near areas in the solar eclipse path of totality, starting Saturday, August 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
2. Be prepared for heavy traffic, delays and headaches.
The Federal Highway Administration, the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado State Patrol and the Wyoming Department of Transportation recommend the following tips if you plan to travel to areas within the "totality" path of the eclipse:
•Pay attention, and don’t drive distracted. Drive defensively because there will be more motorists on the road, and some of them may be slowing down or may not be paying attention when the eclipse is occurring.
•Ensure vehicles have plenty of fuel.
•Don’t take photographs while driving.
•Turn your headlights on and don't rely on your automatic headlights.
•Don’t stop and pull off onto the side of the roads.
•Don’t use the center median crossings on the interstates for turning around or parking. Those crossings are for authorized vehicles. Emergency vehicles need to keep these areas clear for response to emergency situations.
•Don’t park on any highway shoulder or in any ditch area. That can not only be dangerous for you and other drivers, but a person’s car exhaust could start a grass fire.
•Watch out for increased pedestrian traffic along smaller roads. People may randomly park and walking alongside roads in the hour before the total eclipse to get the best viewing.
•Plan ahead and move to a safe and legal area prior to the eclipse so you can enjoy the experience.
•Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and snacks. It's unknown how busy traffic will be, but with hotels and campsites sold out, authorities are expecting large amounts of traffic surrounding this momentous event.
If you plan to be on the water during the eclipse, make sure that your boat has proper lighting. Be aware of your surroundings leading up to the eclipse. You should also keep a safe distance between yourself and other boaters.
In this Wednesday, March 9, 2016 file photo, people wearing protective glasses look up at the sun to watch a solar eclipse in Jakarta, Indonesia. Doctors say not to look at the sun without eclipse glasses or other certified filters except during the two minutes or so when the moon completely blots out the sun, called totality. That’s the only time it’s safe to view the eclipse without protection. When totality is ending, then it’s time to put them back on. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
3. Wear eclipse glasses for eye protection.
Experts stress that the only safe way to look directly at the sun, except at the brief phase of totality (in the path of totality), is using a special-purpose solar filter, popularly known as eclipse glasses. Eclipse glasses block more UV rays than everyday sunglasses, protecting your retinas from burning even when you feel no discomfort looking at the sun through shades.
NASA offers the following solar eclipse viewing safety guidelines:
•Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.
•Always supervise children using solar filters.
•Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
•Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, or other optical device.
•Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eye(s), causing serious injury.
•Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens, or other optics.
• If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.
• Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.
• If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.
4. Be wary of phony glasses.
Make sure that your eclipse safety glasses or viewers are certified as meeting ISO standards for safe solar viewing. The current standard for safe solar viewing is ISO 12312-2.
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) has warned that the market is being flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses that are labeled as if they're compliant with the international safety standard for filters enabling direct viewing of the Sun, but in fact are not.
Amazon has offered refunds on some solar eclipse glasses purchased via its site, citing concerns about consumer safety.
The AAS and NASA have posted a list of reputable solar filter brands, retail distributors and online dealers. See also: How to avoid buying 'bogus' solar eclipse glasses.
Panels containing solar cells make up the new West Tennessee Solar Farm. Tennessee's largest solar generating facility uses its more than 21,000 panels to harness the sun's energy to output 5 megawatts of power. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
5. The total eclipse will blot out solar panels.
There are thousands and thousands of solar panels across the country that will suddenly be switched off as the sun slips behind the moon, according to the Denver Post.
The eclipse will cast a 70-mile-wide shadow across the country knocking out photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays from Oregon to South Carolina, briefly turning off as much as 9,000 megawatts (MW) of generation. That’s equal to 11 of Xcel Energy’s biggest Colorado power plants.
The last time there was a nationwide total eclipse was in 1918, long before solar energy was a thing.
While the eclipse is national, its shadow will fall heaviest in the West where solar has been deeply embraced. Four of the six top states for solar installations — California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah — are located in the region. Some days, California gets as much as 40% of its electricity from solar arrays.
The West will experience biggest impact
The West alone could see the loss of as much as 7,000 MW spread over time, according to Brett Wangen, director of engineering at Peak Reliability, the organization responsible for assuring the dependable operation of the region’s power grid.
Wangen said the “biggest risk” is in California, where 80% of the state is served by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).
Between about 9 a.m. and noon on the day of the eclipse, CAISO expects to lose 4,194 MW of utility-scale solar and 1,365 MW of rooftop solar, according to Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for the agency.
If your house has solar panels for electricity, you should be able to notice a power drop in the output of your panels, which will reach a minimum when the sun is in full eclipse, according to NASA. Power levels will recover as the moon moves away from the sun.
Dress for the cooling temperatures while viewing the solar eclipse, the same way you'd prepare for sundown. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
6. Prepare for things to get chilly.
If you've never experienced it before, the lack of heat coming from the sun can feel both surprising and alarming. Prepare for the cooling temperatures the same way you'd prepare for sundown. Temperatures may drop by as much as 20-to-30 degrees Fahrenheit in some places over the course of an hour or two, according to Forbes.
When 80% of the sunlight is blocked, you won't notice a difference in brightness, but your skin will.
7. Hikers, wildfire danger could cause chaos during solar eclipse.
Millions of visitors are projected to swarm the forests and mountains in states within the eclipse path of totality, right at the time wildfire danger and summer tourism is reaching its apex.
The nightmare scenario is a wildfire breaking out while roads are clogged with cars and campgrounds filled with people.
But there's also concern about thousands of people fighting for just a few open campsites, along with hikers attempting to climb dangerous mountains.
“The thing we’re worried about is people waking up the morning of the eclipse, heading out and expecting to find a campsite or beautiful place to view it,” said Cody Norris, public information officer for Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri and USA Today.
“Don’t show up at the last minute," Norris said. "And once you’re here, be prepared to get stuck somewhere for a long time.”
Virtually all public campsites that can be reserved within the eclipse path were snapped up long ago.
8. General aviation will be significantly impacted.
The total solar eclipse that will take place across the U.S. on August 21, is having a significant impact on general aviation, according to AVWeb.
In Oregon, general aviation airports in the path of totality are reporting that they are fully booked up for the event. Pilots will be camping out with their airplanes.
In Nebraska, Diana Smith, manager of the Beatrice Municipal Airport, told the Nebraska Radio Network she’s heard from pilots across the country who want to fly in for the eclipse. “I would say it will probably be the [most traffic] that we’ve seen at one time, especially since everybody will be coming in all at once,” she said. The airport will close its diagonal runway to park the overflow of aircraft.
9. Landowner liability for camping & eclipse viewing.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (IANR) is suggesting landowners may want to brush up on potential liability issues if they are planning to open up their land for camping and eclipse viewing.
In Nebraska, for example, landowners have legal protection against tourist personal injury liability if they do not charge a fee to campers or eclipse viewers. If they do charge a fee, they must meet 2015 Nebraska agritourism legal requirements in order to reduce their injury liability risk.
Property owners may be liable for damages resulting from injuries occurring on their property. A common example would be a slip-and-fall lawsuit against a retail store. This “premises liability” is not limited to business premises; however, it basically extends to all property, including farm and ranch land.
Landowners are encouraged to contact their insurance agents regarding whether current liability insurance will cover any eclipse-related incidents.