Saturday, September 24th, 2022
County prepares for 2024 solar eclipse
By William Kincaid
CELINA - It's still a ways off, but state and local officials are already planning for a total solar eclipse that will occur on the afternoon of April 8, 2024, affording several Ohio counties great economic and educational opportunities.
For those areas lucky enough to fall in prime viewing area, the potential financial windfall of the total solar eclipse could come with logistical challenges, according to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.
A visible total solar eclipse is a rare and spectacular experience, one that last took place in Ohio in 1806. It transpires when the sun is obscured by the moon. During totality, the sun's corona is visible around the jet-black sphere of the moon, OEMA says.
As such, state officials believe the 2024 event will represent the largest single response effort in Ohio history, per information provided by OEMA.
Mercer County is among 35 Ohio counties expected to be in the full-totality area. That means all of Mercer County will experience a total solar eclipse with nighttime darkness lasting two to four minutes, according to Robbins.
That makes it an ideal place to experience the total solar eclipse, says OEMA, and high viewing demand and high demand on local infrastructure is anticipated.
Neighboring Auglaize County is one of nine counties in the state that will intersect with the center line of totality and hence experience the longest period of totality, most spectators and highest demands on local infrastructure, according to OEMA.
Mercer County's population could double on that day with swarms of visitors descending on parks, campgrounds and other areas to view what for many will be a once-in-a-lifetime event, said Mike Robbins, director of the county Emergency Management Agency.
"Ohio's within a day's drive of 70 percent of the population of the United States," Robbins said at a recent meeting with county stakeholders. "The best case scenario is probably the fair and every festival and picnic in the county going on on the same day - and most of the people there are coming from the outside, not your locals."
Auglaize County, especially the Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta, and Mercer County with Grand Lake and numerous camp sites, should both see significant crowds during the total solar eclipse, said Phil Clayton, southwest regional supervisor of OEMA.
With all this looming on the horizon, Robbins recently convened a meeting with county officeholders, department heads and leaders of schools, hospitals, the chamber of commerce and other groups.
The purpose was to educate key figures of the event and to begin coordinating services. They plan to reconvene next spring.
"The state of Ohio really jumped on this. We got our first presentation spring of 2021 on this," Robbins said. "I didn't jump on it then. I figured this was soon enough. I don't expect to have a whole bunch of meetings like this."
The biggest impact of the total solar eclipse that will fall on a Monday in Mercer County is likely to be heavy traffic and demand for viewing space and accommodations, Robbins said.
"It could be an economic boon. Literally, we could double the population of our county for the day or more," he said.
Hotels and camping sites and restaurants could be filled with out-of-state revelers, he said.
"Problems coming along with that would be impromptu people will camp wherever they want to camp and they'll find their own parking. It will be the 127 (yard) sales on steroids where the traffic laws do not exist and parking spaces are made up," Robbins warned.
Robbins also pointed to other potential issues, such as having enough fuel for first responders, communication difficulties arising from overwhelmed cellphone towers, increased calls to 911, especially for non-emergencies such as fender-benders, tow-truck availability and heavy traffic.
Additionally, with Ohio's penchant for erratic, unpredictable weather, conditions in Mercer County in early April could range from snow, to thunderstorms to tornadoes, he added.
Still, at this point anyhow, Robbins isn't too concerned. He noted officials and business owners have ample time to prepare.
"I don't expect any huge problems as long as nobody does anything real stupid, as long as we plan ahead and know what's going on," he said.
The southwest regional division of OEMA will be present in area counties during the total solar eclipse to provide emergency support "for any of those outside-of-the-bounds or extraordinary requests that may come down the pike," said Clayton.
"We anticipate being here with you all, boots on the ground throughout the duration of this. Between Darke County, Mercer County and Shelby County, this pushes through our region," Clayton said.
The state government and its multiple partners aim to bolster and increase local capability, capacity and resiliency for the total solar eclipse and expected high surge of visitors.
"We have done some initial needs assessments with the counties through a series of surveys that have come from our planning, training and exercise shop," he said.