Porsche Brunzell, sporting a NASA shirt and sweatpants featuring drawings of galaxies, sat at the base of the Astoria Column facing the sun. An admitted space nerd, she had been counting down to the moment for weeks.
She figured the Column, just up the road from her home, was as good a spot as any to see the celestial event.
“I’m geeking out a bit, trying to calm down,” she said about an hour before the solar eclipse as early morning clouds began to fade. “The universe has to give me this.”
For Brunzell and millions of people across the United States on Monday, the universe did just that. But the total solar eclipse did not bring the potential downsides many had feared. There was little traffic gridlock and no unruly crowds — a relief on the North Coast.
Estimates had roughly 1 million people coming to Oregon over the weekend and Monday, temporarily — and quickly — increasing the state’s population by nearly 25 percent. Officials from around the state were expecting massive traffic delays, including in some areas outside the path of totality like the North Coast. But compared to initial worries, it was sunny skies for the state Department of Transportation.
“It’s like a busy weekend,” ODOT spokesman Lou Torres said. “We didn’t encounter anything we couldn’t handle.”
The Department of Transportation’s maintenance crews and communications teams will take the next few days to discuss what worked and didn’t work in preparation for future large events.
“This was a great experience,” Torres said. “We’ve never had anything like this in terms of a mass traffic event.”
Though some agencies increased patrols and even sent some officers south to aid other departments near the path of totality, law enforcement officials did not report any unusual traffic or criminal activity.
“I think this is a reaction to over-advertising,” Cannon Beach Police Chief Jason Schermerhorn said.
Local wildland firefighters were prepared for a number of emergency scenarios that, by the time the eclipse actually arrived, had yet to happen. Instead, they saw the last thing they had expected: Nothing.
In fact, said Neal Bond, Astoria protection unit forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry, the eclipse weekend was quieter than is typical for the summer. There was even a “vacancy” sign out for Fort Stevens State Park before the eclipse, he said, “which is fairly unheard of in August.”
“It’s eerily quiet,” said David Horning, wildland fire supervisor at the state Department of Forestry’s Astoria office, on Sunday.
Fire was a major concern leading up to the eclipse — and, with the mass of people traveling to Oregon, emergency responders worried about traffic gridlock that would not only increase fire danger but also make it almost impossible to move crews, fire engines and equipment to where they were needed.
In Clatsop County, out of the path of totality, state and local officials mostly worried about fire and emergency situations that could occur in the days before and after the eclipse when people were traveling to and from their viewing locations. Local forestland and campground managers prohibited all campfires, and the Astoria Department of Forestry Office began staging crews and equipment at key spots across the county last week.
One firefighter stationed near the county’s southern border was prepared to camp for several days in case traffic was so bad that it didn’t make sense for him to return to the office each day.
By Sunday, the whole thing felt more like a test run for this weekend’s Hood to Coast relay than a response to the eclipse. When fire crews near Forest Grove asked for assistance with a wildland fire there, the Astoria Department of Forestry office was easily able to send a few people down.
In Astoria, businesses downtown were no busier than they normally would be during a summer weekend. Area campgrounds were full or near capacity — as they are every August, eclipse or no eclipse.
The celestial event happened right near the end of a busy month, beginning with a beach volleyball tournament in Seaside the week before and Hood to Coast this coming this weekend. The popular recreational Buoy 10 fishery has drawn hundreds of anglers to the area all month long.
On a whim
People who wanted to experience the full eclipse had already traveled south to watch it glide along the path of totality. Those who remained to watch it at North Coast landmarks — the Astoria Column, Peter Iredale shipwreck and Haystack Rock — were largely a mixture of locals and vacationers who happened to be passing through the area.
Libbie Stobely and Jeff Skinner of Seattle made reservations at the Hallmark Resort and Spa in Cannon Beach a year in advance. Regulars at the hotel, the two did not consider booking a room in the path of totality.
When pondering whether they should have made plans inside the path or away from possible cloud cover, both had the same response: “Who cares?”
Others, like Tom Chmielewski and Sharon Russel, of Madeira Beach, Florida, ended up making their eclipse plans on a whim. They were visiting Astoria as part of a two-week West Coast trip celebrating their upcoming 30th anniversary. Though they knew of the eclipse, it didn’t factor much into the plans they made Monday morning.
“We stumbled upon this and we said, ‘Let’s go see the totem!’” Chmielewski said. Later that day, they witnessed the eclipse from the Astoria Column.
Tom Barnum of Astoria had already witnessed the 1979 eclipse, and he considered traveling south. Instead, he and his wife parked their camping chairs and took photos from the Column.
Maybe they will someday witness the total eclipse as part of a foreign vacation, Barnum said. “I’d rather go to Australia than Albany.”