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San Antonio region prepares for a rare total solar eclipse ... and braces for a tsunami of visitors


What is a total solar eclipse?

It is a rare occurrence that happens when the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth.

This happens when the Moon is in its new moon phase and its orbit brings it close enough to the Earth to completely block out the Sun.

What happens during a total eclipse?

Lara Eakins, senior administrative program coordinator in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin described it like this:

“You'll start to hear like crickets chirping and things that you more associate with twilight or birds chirping that are normally at dawn or in the evening.

"You'll start to hear those because they're going off the amount of light and they're being completely discombobulated by the fact that a lot of the light just went away, even though it's one in the afternoon. ...”

Angela Speck, chair of the physics and astronomy department at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said it will look "like some invisible force is taking a bite out of the sun."

Rain, thunderstorms and gray skies over large swaths of the path of totality are threatening to block views. Here's how to make the most of the rare event.

When, exactly, will the eclipse occur? 

A good portion of San Antonio will be in the direct path for the total eclipse on Monday, April 8.

It will appear as a partial eclipse at about 12:14 p.m. with peak viewing at 1:34 p.m., and then end around 2:55 p.m.

Millions of Texans will have an opportunity to view the event, weather permitting. The latest forecast is for cloudy skies.

The latest forecast for eclipse day on Monday in South Central Texas calls for cloudy skies, with a chance of showers in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon. The chance of rain for Monday is pegged at 60%.

Many cities throughout the state are expecting large influxes of out-of-state visitors to share in the spectacle.

The last total solar eclipse in Texas was in 1878. The next total eclipse in the United States will be in 2045, and then only a small portion of the Texas Panhandle will experience totality.

The path of the solar eclipse on April 8th, 2024
The path of the solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Can I see the eclipse from my house?

San Antonio is on the edge of the path of totality. The Northwest Side of the city will experience 99.9% coverage, while it will be less on the Southeast Side.

Kerrville, to the northwest, is in the near center of the path.

Eagle Pass on the Texas border is in the center too. It will be among the first U.S. communities to witness the eclipse.

Organizers expected to hold an eclipse viewing festival at Eagle Pass' Shelby Park. But they had to move it to another location because of Gov. Greg Abbott's seizure of the park as part of his controversial Operation Lone Star border security program.

This special map enables viewers to track the eclipse across the Western Hemisphere.

Where are some good spots in San Antonio for viewing?

Several spots are sponsoring official viewing events in San Antonio.

The Alamo's wide-open plaza is expected to be a great viewing spot from which to savor the rare event.

Alamo Trust Spokesman Jonathan Huhn said they are prepared to welcome tourists and locals for the spectacle.

The Alamo is not in the area of totality of the solar eclipse, but its wide-open plaza is expected to be a great viewing spot from which visitors may savor the rare event.

He added that the Alamo has stocked up on plenty of solar glasses -- with frames shaped just like the iconic facade of the history building. "This has been a huge seller online and in our welcome center where visitors can purchase them for five dollars each," he explained. More info is available here.

The San Antonio Chamber of Commerce also has a list of viewing events in the city.

Are there options for people with disabilities?

Morgan's Multi-Assistance Center (MAC) will host a viewing event between 1:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. Visitors should bring their own eclipse glasses. The MAC is located at 5210 Thousand Oaks Drive.

The Children's Association for Maximum Potential, or CAMP, is selling tickets for prime viewing spots. Reservations are required for a spot at the event, located at 515 Skyline Drive in Center Point. It's about an hour drive northwest of San Antonio. CAMP provides people with various disabilities a range of activities at its campgrounds. Nondisabled siblings may also participate in these activities.

Also, WBUR recently spoke with one of the founders of the LightSound Project, who has ideas for blind people to enjoy the eclipse.

Do I need special glasses?

Yes — you cannot look directly at the sun without risking severe damage to your eyes (though some people have ignored that advice in the past).

United States President Donald J. Trump, right, looks skywards as he prepares look at the partial eclipse of the sun from the Blue Room Balcony of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on Monday, August 21, 2017. Photo by Ron Sachs/CNP/ABACAPRESS.COM
Ron Sachs
Then-President Donald J. Trump looked skywards during the partial solar eclipse in 2017.

Some places where you can purchase eclipse glasses include Amazon.com, H-E-B stores, hardware stores and dedicated websites like GreatAmericanEclipse.com or Eclipse2024.org.

Some people may want to use their cell phones to take photos of the eclipse. NPR recently shared some tips on how to do that safely.

Are there any concerns about power outages?

The state's power operator says the grid will not be affected by the solar eclipse. ERCOT said it has worked on forecasting models to reflect reduced solar power production -- similar to a sunset and sunrise. It does not expect any grid reliability concerns during the eclipse.

A new report confirmed that the grid was prepared. Researchers from Texas A&M University said solar generation output will temporarily drop to zero as the moon moves across the sun. Despite this, they say the grid is well-equipped with other power sources that can compensate for the loss and will help stabilize the grid.

Solar generation will gradually rise to normal as the sun comes out again.

In 1878 a total solar eclipse crossed through the American West and captured the world's attention. A musical in development sings the stories of three scientists who looked to the sky with something personal to prove.

Are there concerns over the number of eclipse visitors pouring into the region?

Die-hard eclipse fans who want to avoid crowds may opt to travel to the northwest of San Antonio and view the event from a place like a lightly traveled county road.

However, you may not be alone. Several regional counties, including Burnet, have issued disaster declarations. Burnet's officials said they expected the population to double as tourists travel to see the eclipse. Officials said the influx of people will put a strain on critical resources and impact travel times. Burnet County is expected to experience around 4 minutes of totality.

The declaration is in effect from until April 10. Kendall, Kerr, Travis, and Bell counties have also issued similar declarations.

In San Marcos, officials don't expect to be in the path of totality. But they will be dealing with large numbers of people traveling to and from spots that are.

KUT recently reported that Emergency Management Coordinator Rob Fitch issued the standard caution about traffic congestion, cell service and internet outages and increased demand for fuel and groceries. But he added that there’s no need for panic-buying. "It's not a hurricane," he said. Just don't make any appointments or run errands on Monday.

Schools plan to close, and so do some businesses. For those business that decide to stay open, city officials have asked them to prepare to handle more cash transactions and consider hybrid or remote work options on Monday.

The police chief strongly suggested that visitors arrive a few hours early before the eclipse and be parked by noon. Parking locations will be marked around the city, including the Kerrville Sports Complex.

Are officials really concerned about traffic?

The State of Texas is warning both eclipse tourists and residents in the path of totality about very serious traffic issues once the event is over.

On Friday, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) explained that, despite forecasts for cloudy and even rainy weather during the eclipse, it still expects heavy traffic from visitors who are coming anyway because they booked rooms in the region long ago.

Agency Spokeswoman Jennifer Serold said some of TXDOT's nightmare scenarios include roads blocked by vehicles that run out of gas or that block roads in other ways. "Here at TXDOT we're asking you to plan ahead for possible delays and make sure you give yourself extra time to get to your destination before and after the eclipse. Make sure that you pull into a safe location to watch the eclipse, and please avoid stopping on the roadway or blocking the shoulder."

In a statement, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued this advice:

  • Drivers should not stop on roads to observe the eclipse. Drivers who want to observe the eclipse should pull over, clear of traffic and away from being hit by other vehicles. Watch out for others who may not pick the best places to stop.
  • If driving during the eclipse, focus on the road — don’t look at the eclipse or wear eclipse glasses while driving. Drivers may need to activate vehicle lights during the eclipse due to lack of sunlight. Texas law requires vehicle lights to be activated any time visibility is less than 1,000 feet.
  • Plan your travel in advance and expect traffic delays. Consider carpooling to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Leave space and increase following distance. You should expect stop and go traffic. Please avoid non-essential travel, if possible.
  • Make a communication plan with your family and friends during the eclipse in case cell phone service is impacted. Large numbers of people can temporarily overload cellular provider towers.
  • Keep a full tank of gas, as well as water, snacks and other supplies in your vehicle.
  • Always remember to be courteous and patient with others, especially as the state anticipates a large number of drivers on the roads for this historic event.

The agency also advised drivers of electric vehicles to get a full charge before heading out and to ensure they know where to find an EV charging station. They can find a list here.

Also, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles has imposed a new prohibition on oversized and overweight truck loads. Those vehicles have longer stopping distances and more blind spots, and that can increase the risk of crashes. So trucks with supersized cargo will be banned from the roads on April 8 from midnight-to-midnight in almost 90 counties, including Bexar County.

What's the news about Kerrville?

Kerrville city officials are planning to be ground zero for big viewing crowds — possibly more than 100,000 people. They expect their population to double or triple for the event.

The city's Louis Hays Park will be the site of an eclipse festival. Visitors are encouraged to bring some cash due to high demand on cellular services and a possible interruption of credit card services. NASA plans to make Kerrville the official location of its online eclipse stream.

Kerr County officials have said that authorities will redirect traffic if and when needed, especially in the immediate aftermath of the eclipse. The Kerrville Daily Times recently reported that the only closures would be in the immediate area of Louise Hays Park. Visitors were encouraged to carpool or rideshare.

The sheriff has encouraged people living in Kerrville to stay at home that day, if possible, due to large numbers of people in the area. Locals who have to travel that day are encouraged to avoid State Highways 27 and 16.

Is it strange to feel big feelings or think deep thoughts about the eclipse?

Not at all. Eclipses are silent but they can be dramatic, spectacular and even disconcerting events that can profoundly touch hearts and minds.

Some people feel these moments bring everyone together. Other people value the events for reminding them that they're part of a bigger solar system in motion around them. Some people feel small and insignificant. Others feel fortunate that they were able to witness a rare and harmless example of the majesty of the natural world.

"The Texas Standard" recently spoke with Sean Goldy, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, who studied the expressions of awe people shared on social media during the 2017 solar eclipse. "People felt closer to others ... during and after the eclipse. They felt humbled. They wanted to help people. Expressions of anger decreased in the Tweets, while expressions of empathy increased."

Nowadays, eclipses are anticipated celestial events. But some superstitions about eclipses carry on to this day.

Such reactions are likely to occur again on Monday.

KUT's Chelsey Zhu recently checked in with "yogis, astrologers, tarot card readers. They all agreed the eclipse is a rare opportunity for personal growth if you know how to take advantage of it. Some said the impact is even greater if you’re in the path of totality."

Similarly, in 2017, Norma Martinez explored how eclipses resonated in Mexican spiritualism. One San Antonio botanica owner explained that "individuals who practice some rituals with stones, amulets, or talismans look forward to celestial events like an eclipse" because of how empowered it makes them feel.

Some superstitious people will also wear "calzones rojos — red underwear — during an eclipse." There may not be any understandable reason for it, but if your grandmother says simply to do it because it works, perhaps no other reason is needed.

Excitement continues to build for the total solar eclipse on Monday. The path of totality will travel from Mexico, cross the border and enter the United States. In her commentary, TPR contributor Yvette Benavides compares that path to the trek of migrants in the shadow of the eclipse.

Brian Kirkpatrick, Jackie Velez, Jerry Clayton, David Martin Davies, Yvette Benavides, Jack Morgan, Norma Martinez and Marian Navarro contributed to this report. Also contributing were KERA's Megan Cardona and Jerome Weeks, and KUT's Becky Fogel, Chelsey Zhu, Nathan Bernier, Olivia Aldridge, Luz Moreno-Lozano and Maya Fawaz.

TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.