The solar eclipse is coming! And with it, hordes of people descending upon small towns that lie within its path. That means frantic, cataclysm-level prep as though for the apocalypse itself which, frankly, considering the way things are going lately, is probably for the best.
Of course, Americans are preparing in lots of ways for this rare cosmic event. Many are frantically looking to make a last-minute acquisition of eclipse viewing glasses, and Facebook timelines across the country are plastered with warnings about only buying proper, accredited specs. The Science Channel is strapping in for this thing like they’re Walmart getting ready for Black Friday. One Pennsylvania school district won’t let students outside for recess, for fear they’ll burn their retinas staring into the sun. People even went so far as to provide a guide for how to safely prep your pet.
And there are of course the luxury experiences. Vanity Fair details the many VIP offerings available, the crown jewel of which will be Bonnie Tyler singing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on Royal Caribbean’s Total Eclipse Cruise as the sun briefly winks out.
But the preparations are most intense in areas that promise a clear view of the total eclipse—many of them places that aren’t exactly set up to host the Super Bowl for science nerds. And so towns across the country currently look like a montage from a movie about an asteroid barreling toward Earth.
Accuweather, for instance, looked to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which expects to host more tourists than it has residents, has dubbed itself “Eclipseville” and has a Solar Eclipse Marketing and Events Consultant who says, “We’ve got people coming from 42 different states and 18 different countries.” (To prepare, Wired reports, small towns can hire special consultants like Kate Russo.) And so:
In preparation, Hopkinsville is bringing in additional cell phone towers and canceling same-day surgery at the local hospital on the day of the eclipse to create an additional emergency room, Jung said.
They’re placing officers and tow trucks around the county to reduce traffic congestion, and they are bringing in additional health department officials to help permit food truck vendors. They created a utility committee to make sure lights don’t turn on in designated viewing areas during the eclipse.
“This isn’t something that we bid on, this isn’t something that we planned and it’s not something that there was a handbook for, so we’re kind of making it up as we go,” Jung said.
The Guardian, meanwhile, checked in with Weiser, Idaho, where they’ve ordered 70 portapotties for the occasion:
They will serve a crowd that could reach 70,000 by the time this tiny town on the Oregon border is plunged into total darkness on Monday.
You don’t even have to do the math. Patrick Nauman will do it for you: “It’s about a thousand per ... It’s all we could get.”
Between this and a record snowfall earlier in the year, Mayor Diana Thomas somewhat jokingly said many in the town want to know, “Why is God mad at us?” The final planning meeting before the big event began with the invocation: “I pray for our people that protect us. I pray for the people that make decisions. I pray for the events that we have coming up here in our area with the eclipse and all the many details.”
There’s no two ways about it, Slate reports from Oregon—this thing is a logistical nightmare.
Where will the 10,000 get their gas? John Day, home to 1,700 residents, has only two stations. How will small-town restaurants and groceries feed 10,000 extra bellies? How will tourists navigate and communicate, given the notoriously bad cell service around John Day?
For more than a year, 56 federal, state, local, and tribal agencies have been working to answer questions like these. It’s been difficult for planners to find an eclipse proxy, says Paula Negele of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. The eclipse is an act of nature that, unlike floods, fires, and hurricanes, isn’t a disaster in and of itself—but could bring about disastrous consequences.
Reuters adds that forest rangers and fire managers across the West in particular are on high alert, given that it’s fire season even without the added complication of all these people. “It’s all hands on deck,” said ranger Kurt Nelson, at Idaho’s Sawtooth National Forest.
I’ll leave you with this tweet from the Federal Emergency Management Agency: