Visitors descend on towns in US path of totality for solar eclipse in 'generational event'

Scientists say it will be the most closely observed eclipse ever

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For the residents of this normally quiet corner of south-western Ohio, the next few days are set to be unlike anything they have seen before.

Dayton lies within the solar eclipse’s path of totality, and for a few short minutes on Monday afternoon, the sky overhead will go dark.

Millions of people are expected to descend on the 15 states that lie within the 185-km-wide path that will see the entirety of the Sun hidden behind the Moon, making for the biggest travel event of the year in the US.

Watch parties have been announced at museums and in neighbourhoods, music and yoga festivals have been scheduled, schools will shutter for the day, and one county's fairgrounds will be opened up for the weekend to facilitate – and make a quick buck from – campers coming from far and wide to experience the event. There is even a half marathon scheduled.

In Dayton, about 30,000 people are expected at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Museum, where a massive party is planned.

Motorways, streets and roads could turn into car parks.

Scientists say it will be the most closely observed eclipse ever, with rockets launched to observe how the Earth’s atmosphere reacts to it, among other experiments.

“The next solar eclipse to hit the continental United States will be in 21 years, so this is literally a generational event,” says Mike McNeill, who, along with his wife, has travelled from California to Ohio for the event.

“We would like to see it in Ohio but we’re flexible and have several locations in Indiana and Ohio [planned], but it will really come down to how it looks on the day of,” he adds, noting that crowds and cloud cover are the main factors in deciding where they will end up.

At the SunWatch Indian Village on the banks of the Great Miami River south of Dayton, organisers are gearing up for a one-of-a-kind experience, with about 100 visitors set to attend an all-day event centred on how the original inhabitants of North America interacted with the sky above.

The focal point of SunWatch, last inhabited about 800 years ago, is a tall cedar pole used by the Fort Ancient peoples of the Ohio River valley to chart the seasons – and thus their planting and harvesting schedules – by following the movement of the sun.

“On the morning of the winter solstice, when the sun rises, the shadow from the centre pole will fall through the doorway of the solstice house,” says Taylor Hoffman, director of operations for the site, pointing to a thatched mud hut about 30 metres north-west of the pole.

“So they knew that the sun was going to come back and they could start planting.”

While most humans will experience Monday’s eclipse through a phone or television screen, the event is also expected to have an effect on wildlife.

Bats are expected to emerge – temporarily – and animals may start acting as if it is night-time. Temperatures will plummet and wind directions could change.

Onlookers will have to keep in mind that while nature can give, it can also take away. Cloud cover in this part of Ohio on April 8 historically is about 44 per cent, and clouds are expected on Monday afternoon.

For many in Texas and other southern states, the whole event may turn out to be a busted flush, as widespread clouds are expected for Monday afternoon there, too.

But for those with foresight and deep pockets, there is an option to outmanoeuvre any cloud cover: seeing the eclipse from the sky.

Delta Air Lines has chartered two flights to run along the path of the eclipse, from Austin, Texas, to Detroit, Michigan. Both flights, however, were sold out by Thursday and were going for $1,099 plus tax a seat.

For everybody else in the path of the eclipse, Monday will be about having to contend with the additional load on infrastructure.

During the previous solar eclipse that crossed a large part of the US in 2017, travellers reported spending 12 hours on a road trip home that would normally take five.

Other reports suggested GPS and credit card machines malfunctioned due to the increased demand for internet services.

County officials in Bell County, Texas, have gone as far as issuing a state of emergency due to the number of people expected to descend on the community to view the eclipse.

Still, for many, this is a one-in-a-lifetime, not-to-be-missed experience.

Although the most recent solar eclipse over US soil was only seven years ago, the next to happen over a similarly large number of the lower 48 states will not be until 2045.

“I wasn’t too enthusiastic about eclipses before this eclipse, but we started researching it a little more and thought this could actually be a very special and cool thing,” says Mr McNeill.

“It’s going to be another 350 years before Ohio sees another one like this.”

Updated: April 06, 2024, 4:32 AM