COLUMBIA, Mo. - How many people will descend upon Mid-Missouri for Eclipse 2017? It depends on who you ask. The number varies from thousands to hundreds of thousands.
As Boone County Emergency Management director Terry Cassil says, “We just can't know the number of people that are going to come for the eclipse. There's lots of numbers out there floating around.”
Because of this variable, Cassil says his office and the emergency operations center are on standby.
The last time a total solar eclipse cut across the country was in 1918. There were around six million registered vehicles in the U.S. compared to today’s 260 million vehicles. Combine that with the modern interstate system, mass transit options and the fact that most Americans live within one day’s travel distance from the path of the eclipse and the sky’s the limit.
GreatAmericanEclipse.com is one of the ways the experts are trying to form a best-guess estimate on the crowds. Michael Zeiler is the point man on that topic.
Zeiler said, “I work for the leading GIS firm called ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) and so I'm lucky to be in the position to be able to have access to all of this data and this analytic capabilities. It took several weeks for me to come up with those estimates it was quite a process to compute that.”
Zeiler says he took into account the entire population of United States to compute exactly how people will converge onto the eclipse path. “A big imponderable will be exactly how many people show up and it's impossible to give a precise number."
In Mr. Zeiler’s conservative educated guess Columbia could get 16,000 to 65,000 eclipse enthusiasts and Jefferson City may see anywhere from 13,000 to 50,000 visitors. The entire path through Missouri may see anywhere from 320,000 to more than a million guests.
Because of this unknown variable, Zeiler has some important advice. Zeiler says, "I think what's really important for people is to arrive at their destination and to be completely self-sufficient. Have your gas tank full, bring all the water and food. Bring everything. Bring toilet paper. Bring a tent and sleeping bags. And just be completely self-sufficient because all the local facilities will be overwhelmed guaranteed. And also be prepared to stay a little longer."
Cassil says, "We've talked to all the emergency services folks, out there and the county and the city of Columbia, the Joint Communications folks the hospitals and everyone's just kind of standing up and standing by for what's going to happen." He says they'll all be ready to activate the emergency operations center in Boone at the state level in Jefferson City if needed.
The other variable is the weather. ABC 17 Stormtrack chief meteorologist Sharon Ray looked at the historical data and says the chance of a clear sky in Columbia is 69.6 percent. It's even greater in Jefferson City at 76.6 percent. The weather will of course play a part but right now the odds are really good for eclipse viewing. Sharon says, "Of course, I'll be tracking those clouds. I'll be watching them as close as we can get to the eclipse.
For Joey Parker's complete special report, “Eclipse 2017: Emergency Aware,” watch the above video.