Unless you’ve been living on the dark side of the moon, you’ve probably heard about the total solar eclipse occurring the morning of Aug. 21 in Idaho. So, it’s a good time to talk about preparation and safety before, during, and after this historic event that’s expected to draw up to hundreds of thousands of viewers to the state.
First: What’s the total solar eclipse all about and why would so many people come to Idaho for it?
Idaho is one of the states along the “path of totality” that stretches from Oregon eastward to South Carolina, where the moon will pass between the earth and sun, totally obscuring the sun’s rays and casting a shadow across a swath of southern Idaho. The moon’s shadow will enter Idaho’s western border moving at 2,076 mph (It will “slow” to 1,851 mph by the time it crosses the border with Wyoming due to the curvature of the earth; to see how fast the shadow will move and when partial and total eclipse periods begin and end in your specific viewing location, use this solar eclipse calculation map). The period of total eclipse will last only around two minutes depending on where you are, but because of Idaho’s location on the path, time of day, and normal seasonal lack of cloud cover, we’re considered a prime viewing location.
What about viewing the eclipse itself?You never want to look directly at the sun without appropriate eye protection, except during that brief period of totality. Sunglasses are not enough! You should plan ahead and order your approved-safe eclipse viewing glasses online now, or check with your local library, many of which are distributing eclipse viewing glasses for free. Right now, there are only five brands of certified safe eclipse viewing glasses on the market – beware of fakes! NASA, which has an excellent eclipse website at www.eclipse2017.nasa.gov, recently issued a tip sheet that explains what to look for to be sure the eclipse viewing glasses you are using are certified safe.
How else should people prepare for the eclipse?
Anticipating crowds, traffic jams, potential disruption of mobile phone service, lots of time outdoors and hot temperatures, at a bare minimum have sunscreen, insect repellent and plenty of water and snacks. Remember to wear protective clothing as you may spend a lot of time in the sun. Also, take any prescription medications you need, a first aid kit, which should have some sort of over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen. If you’re gathering in a crowded viewing location, make a plan for a place to meet if you get separated from your group – and keep your dog on a leash. And if you are traveling some distance to a viewing location, be sure you have accommodations reserved – hotel and camping spaces have been booked for months, if not years in advance in the most popular spots.
What public health and safety concerns does an event like this present?
Depending on the size and concentration of visitors along the Idaho path of totality in the days leading up to and after the eclipse, there could be a variety of issues people should be aware of to reduce their risk. Here are just a few:
- Wildfire and smoky air: It’s already hot and dry, which means conditions are ripe for air-polluting wildfires. Please prevent wildfires by following the regulations in effect on public and private lands, but also remember smoky air can cause respiratory and heart problems. For daily smoke forecasts, air quality measures, and links to health resources visit idsmoke.blogspot.com.
- Food- and waterborne illnesses: Norovirus is extremely contagious and can spread quickly from person to person in places where people spend a lot of time together. Salmonella is a bacterium that causes illness and can be fatal unless treated. Your best defense against both is to wash your hands often, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper and always before eating or preparing food. And remember, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Distracted driving: We talked about how fast the moon’s shadow will be moving across Idaho – you should not expect to drive that fast. Not nearly. Expect lots of stop-and-go traffic and limited parking in popular eclipse viewing areas. Please park your phone while driving, and shut it off or mute it so you can’t be distracted by sounds of incoming calls or messages. And don’t look at the eclipse while driving – get off the freeway, and park well away from the roadway, but not in dry grass. (That’s a fire hazard.) And lastly, never, ever leave a child or pet in a parked car!
A Closer Look at Your Health airs weekly on KBOI 670 AM Tuesdays at 6:50 a.m. MDT; this is an extended transcript of the Aug. 1, 2017 program.
Visit Idaho Total Solar Eclipse Guide: https://visitidaho.org/eclipse/
Idaho Wildfire Smoke Blog: www.idsmoke.blogspot.com
NASA Eclipse 2017: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/
Watch the Solar Eclipse on Your Public Lands (Bureau of Land Management)