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Saturday, April 20, 2024

You Outta Know

An eclipse guide for Evansville-area residents

After two years of planning for the next Great American Eclipse, the main event is here.

The Evansville region will be in a direct line of sight April 8 when the moon briefly moves in front of the sun, a phenomenon known as a solar eclipse. Unlike the last solar eclipse in August 2017, much of the Tri-State lies in the path of totality, meaning they will see the full effect of the moon blocking the sun’s rays. The moon will begin moving into position around 12:45 p.m. Central Time, with totality expected for three minutes starting at 2:02 p.m. Evansville is projected to return to full sun by around 3:20 p.m.

Reflecting on high eclipse enthusiasm in 2017, officials with city and county governments, law enforcement and public safety agencies, nonprofits, schools, museums, meteorologists, media, and more have been coordinating a regional response since spring 2022. While much is focused on preparing for a swarm of regional visitors on April 8, Evansville-area residents also will be impacted by the influx of guests. Here’s what you need to know heading into eclipse weekend.

Congested Traffic and Disrupted Cell Service

Explore Evansville officials are expecting upward of 80,000 travelers to visit the Evansville region for the solar eclipse. Some may spend a leisurely long weekend around the River City. Others may file into town the day of. Regardless, this means streets will be packed with vehicles, and cell towers will be overloaded.

Officials have been working with phone and internet service providers to prevent overloaded systems and sluggish connectivity, and ensure emergency and public safety personnel can communicate. Eclipse spectators are encouraged to download all maps and travel documents ahead of time for offline use in case cell phone and internet service becomes spotty on April 8.

With more than 20 regional events April 5-7, and at least an additional 10 events on the day of the eclipse itself, expect traffic to be congested throughout Evansville — especially the Lloyd Expressway — and major regional thoroughfares such as U.S. 41 and State Routes 62 and 66.

Riverside Drive itself will be closed to vehicular traffic from Vine to Locust streets on April 8, and Wesselman Woods is redirecting traffic at its April 8 eclipse festivities to East Virginia Street off of North Boeke Road, near Wesselman Park’s softball fields and Swonder Ice Arena.

According to Knox County’s eclipse director Sarah Wolfe, 80 percent of travelers visiting the region for the eclipse are likely to leave immediately following totality’s end at approximately 2:05 p.m. Central Time. That threatens to put thousands of vehicles on area roads at the exact same time. In an effort to stave off traffic jams, Evansville Police Department officials have asked travelers to delay their departure after the eclipse.

Explore Evansville officials have taken that message a step further and encouraged residents to complete grocery shopping, errands, and appointments before or after — but not on — April 8, so fewer vehicles are on the road the day of the eclipse.

“If you don’t have to go to that appointment or run that errand on April 8, try to bump it to another day,” Explore Evansville CEO Alexis Berggren cautions.

Possibly complicating preparation are downed trees and power lines from a line of severe storms early April 2, causing county officials and utility crews to scramble in addressing the damage through Vanderburgh, Posey, Gibson, Warrick, and Spencer counties. In one instance, the Evansville Wartime Museum was forced to cancel its eclipse viewing party — and events for the foreseeable future — because of storm damage to its roof.

There is, however, a silver lining on April 8: No Lloyd Expressway construction will take place that day, meaning no new or additional lane restrictions and closures until after eclipse crowds leave town.

Business Closures

In addition to street closures, some businesses and organizations will suspend operations for the day. The Civic Center will be closed to the public April 8, although city and county employees still will report to work. Students at Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation and Ivy Tech Community College will enjoy the day off. Despite still holding classes, the University of Evansville and University of Southern Indiana are hosting eclipse activities, including watch parties, on their campuses.

And although it’s been hosting weeks of eclipse-related activities, all eight branches of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library will be shuttered April 8. Its parking lots, though, will be open as a stage area for emergency service vehicles.

Need a hand shuttling back and forth between eclipse events? The City of Evansville’s METS bus system is offering rides at no cost April 8. Also be on the lookout for rideshare promotions.

Overnight Stays

In 2017, the Evansville region saw 90 percent hotel occupancy the night before the eclipse, and Explore Evansville officials are expecting about the same this year. If out-of-town friends are still looking for accommodations, hotels and campsites still are available, even if they are at an escalated price. Many third-party booking websites have recently displayed regional hotel rooms as sold out, even though vacancies remain, so your best bet is to book directly with the facility.

Campsites such as the Vanderburgh 4-H Center and Tri-State Motor Speedway also are holding events.

Those opening their property for public eclipse spectators and campers are encouraged to contact their county’s Emergency Management Agency in order to register their address on first responders’ emergency maps.

Safety First

Speaking of, with heavy traffic expected starting April 6, wait times for police, fire, and emergency medical responders may be longer than normal through the afternoon of April 8. When considering where to watch the eclipse Monday, consider how quickly you can reach emergency service — and how much time it may take EMS personnel to reach you. Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office officials have shared that their and other law enforcement agencies plan to operate at maximum manpower April 8.

Some spectators may choose to take to the Ohio River to view the eclipse, but the U.S. Coast Guard urges caution. Officials anticipate high water levels with possibly powerful drifts and floating debris. On an April 2 call with regional eclipse organizers, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Justin Pago advised that although waterways are expected to be open, the Coast Guard and area law enforcement will be monitoring recreational watercraft operated by boaters without proper licensing (known as Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels, or OUPVs).

No matter where you view the eclipse, be sure you have certified viewing glasses on hand. Glasses must feature an International Safety Standard stamp, will be labeled “ISO 12312-2,” and should only be purchased from a reputable retailer. Glasses have an expiration date, so if you’re still clutching viewers from the 2017 solar eclipse, toss them out — their integrity has diminished enough in the past six-plus years that they are unsafe to wear on April 8. Likewise, do not use any glasses that have scratched lenses.

Eclipse glasses should be worn anytime you gaze at the sun, except for when the moon directly covers the entire sun during Evansville’s three minutes in the path of totality. That said, eclipse glasses should not be worn during other activities, such as driving. When the eclipse is over, don’t throw your glasses out! Check in with Explore Evansville officials, who are working with Astronomers Without Borders to set up collection bins throughout the city so glasses can be recycled.

One last bit of eclipse advice from Explore Evansville? Be kind. With thousands of visitors to Evansville — some perhaps for the first time — residents are asked to show patience.

“We want to be sure we welcome our guests,” Berggren says.

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Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen
Jodi Keen is the managing editor of Evansville Living and Evansville Business magazines.

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