Warnings of severe traffic, calamity, fuel and food shortages never really materialized in Central Oregon during the Great American Eclipse on Aug. 21 — but sometimes it's better to over-hype than be unprepared.
he biggest traffic event in Oregon history," as predicted by the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) didn't quite come to pass as Oregonians and eclipse chasers heeded advice and staggered travel plans throughout the state — some canceling plans outright — according to ODOT. "The traffic wasn't as horrible as we perhaps thought it was going to be this morning," said Thomas Fuller, an ODOT spokesperson, in an interview with the Oregonian.
"There's been some talk about, 'Oh it was overhyped,' but I don't think so," Fuller said. "Had we not been really preparing, people preparing when to come, preparing their vehicles, keeping a watch out and us pre-placing a lot of equipment...I think it probably would've been a lot worse than this. This was about the best we can expect."
Part of the prep began in June 2016 and included a strategy to post crews along critical travel routes. "Our primary objective in deploying crews along anticipated high volume routes is to keep traffic flowing during peak travel hours," said ODOT District 10 Manager, Jim Scholtes. "This is one of the largest pre-emptive deployment exercises we have undertaken to date and we are pleased with the results."
While state highways saw more cars than average, ODOT reported that apart from some areas surrounding Madras and Salem, traffic flowed "relatively well." Those motorists who did encounter difficulties were assisted by 21 traffic mitigation teams along U.S. Highway 97, stretching all the way from Shaniko to La Pine. Crews worked around the clock in areas such as Prineville and Mitchell to clear broken down vehicles from roadways, including one reported overturned motorhome which saw the closing of U.S. Highway 26 leading into the Symbiosis Eclipse Gathering held at Big Summit Prairie.
n that route, a reported 70,000 festival attendees experienced delays of up to 12 hours from Prineville into the Ochocos — a 35-mile stretch that was backed up for 15 miles. Motorists were rerouted into a 90-mile detour with many sleeping in their cars as they awaited to enter the festival. The gathering was permitted for 35,000 attendees, however ODOT estimated at least 28,000 cars were at the event — hence an estimate of 70,000 people.
Around the state, delays of 1-2 hours were reported, with the route from Redmond to Madras, usually only taking 30 minutes, taking 1.5 hours, according to the Central Oregon Emergency Information Network. Still, it was a far cry from rumors that the trip from Bend to Madras was going to take up to 12 hours.
After watching the 2 minute, 2 second totality, revellers largely ignored ODOT's advice of staying put with many hopping in their cars, instantly jamming U.S Hwy 97 in both north and south directions. Near Salem, Interstate 5 experienced bumper-to-bumper traffic even before the eclipse had finished, according to ODOT's new Trip Check website.
Some chasers, resisting pleas from Sgt. Nathan Garibay, the emergency manager for Deschutes County, parked on the side of highways to view the eclipse. Worried about congestion and possible fire hazards from hot exhaust pipes, Garibay had warned motorists of needlessly clogging roadways, though excited spectators were seen pulled over in shoulder areas, hoping to make a quick exit after the event.H
eavy wildfire smoke that lingered a few days before the event and was near the path of totality, scared off some vacationers, with ODOT reporting they had heard anecdotal reports of many canceling their plans to the Central Oregon region.
Meanwhile, the Madras Municipal Airport reported as many as 400 planes stuck in an airplane traffic jam on the landing strip — many of them small private aircrafts — backed up on the tarmac. Officials reported flights were departing on average every 3 minutes.
Taking advantage of the large eclipse crowds, a man robbed the U.S. Bank in downtown Madras shortly before 2pm on Monday and fled into the surrounding area, according to Madras Police. Efforts to locate the man are being coordinated by local and federal police units.
St. Charles Health System, prepped and over-staffed with an extra 40 travel nurses, canceled elective surgeries and rented extra supplies such as hospital beds to accomodate an expected influx of patients, that never materialized. At the Madras center, employees and patients were seen stepping out of the building or at windows, watching the eclipse.
Oregon Experiences Clearest Skies Across Nation
ost of Oregon, including Madras, Prineville and Salem, experienced nearly clear skies for the two minutes of totality with only parts of Depoe Bay experiencing cloud cover. It was reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Prediction Center (NOAA) to be one of the clearest spots in the nation.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho was also clear, while in Kansas City, Mo., viewers were met with disappointment when heavy cloud cover and rain obscured the eclipse, according to NOAA. Nashville, Tenn., also experienced blockages right at the start of totality, according to the Tennessean while South Carolina had a variety of weather patterns with some chasers experiencing clear skies and some rain.
Traffic will likely be delayed between Madras and Redmond for the next day or so, ODOT's Fuller said, and he urged drivers to be patient.
The weeklong Symbiosis Gathering is due to finish on Wednesday, Aug. 23 and is expected to clog major transportation arteries further.
"As these festivals let out, it's going to flood a bunch more people on Highway 97," Fuller said. "It's not a four-lane freeway. Folks are going to have to really take their time and be patient on Highway 97 for the coming days, really."