By P.J. Tracy
Dr. Clay Sherrod presented what the total solar eclipse might look like from an attendance perspective during a presentation last week in Murfreesboro.
The eclipse, set for April 8, 2024, is predicted to bring millions of tourists into Arkansas. The total eclipse will last for three minutes and 41 seconds in Murfreesboro and will occur just under 300 days from now.
Stating that there was little left to learn about eclipses from a scientific perspective, Sherrod said that the event will be “most important from the human standpoint … and will be a boon for towns, but a disaster for those not ready for it.”
“Eclipses happen all over the world all the time,” he said, but noted that a full “dead center” solar eclipse that goes over such a large swath of the United States is rare.
“It is the largest eclipse in the United States ever and will remain so for the rest of our lifetimes.”
He stated that up to three million people could visit Arkansas, with most of the visitors looking “to get to the longest totality they can.”
Murfreesboro, while not aligned right down the middle of the longest period of eclipse, is near enough that it could become a highly selective spot to see the eclipse as the better viewing locations fill up.
“If they don’t have reservations soon, they may well be out of luck,” Sherrod stated, noting that vacation rental establishments will fill up well before the April 8 date next year.
The event will turn Murfreesboro completely dark, bringing not scientists to the area, but professionals from all over the world — and not just domestically.
“The 2017 eclipse was such a hit, that’s why the 2024 event is expected,” Sherrod explained. “This is happening wether you like it or not, much like death … people will be where they want to be or have to be when it occurs.”
He said traffic statewide will come to a standstill and that it could be “a nightmare.”
“They are coming, many to southwest Arkansas, and since you have a destination attraction already, combined with the fact that there are not many towns nearer the [longer duration] line in the area, there will be lost of people here [in Murfreesboro] wether you want them or not.
“Tourists will want to come here anyway, because of the diamond mine, and that includes daytrippers from other areas of south Arkansas that won’t get to experience full totality.”
He said most places will overlook street lights, which will come on and distort viewing for those nearest them. “Visitors will want open spaces to view the eclipse.”
Sherrod listed a number of pros and cons for the upcoming event including:
Cons — lodging and accommodations, fuel and water availability, sanitation, safety concerns, crime and law enforcement, parking, medicine and medical supplies, traffic control, emergency services, wear and tear on city infrastructure
Pros — huge opportunity for local businesses, visibility for area, tax revenue, food and beverage income, motels and lodging facilities full, festival and entertainment opportunities and millions of dollars in increased revenue
He gave the example of South Carolina from 2017, who saw 2 million people visit in two days, but that the state had an estimated $300 million in added revenue.
It is also necessary to plan events for the visitors.
“Keep people busy, or they could get into trouble,” he said of the 12,000-20,000 estimated visitors in the general area of Pike County. “People are making their minds up where to go now … get the word out and get them to come here.”
There are potential plans of utilizing the industrial lot next to the Pike County Jail and city park as viewing areas inside Murfreesboro.
The eclipse, which will move across the country at 2,000 miles per hours, will have an effect on both humans and wildlife alike. Sherrod said that for humans during the depth perception will be effected and may induce vertigo, dizziness and/or disorientation.
While “so many fake” glasses will be sold for the event for viewing, Sherrod said that the proper equipment was space quality mylar that was ISO certified 12312-2.
“But many are not,” he said, noting that many shysters will attempt to sell eclipse paraphernalia between now and the event next year.
Also, he adds that while many a news story between now and then will attempt to incite fear, there is no special danger of looking at an eclipse as opposed to looking at the sun any other time.
While staring at the sun was always not the best idea, Sherrod stated that there was no “special radiation” that was emitted from the sun during an eclipse.
“During the buildup, don’t stare at the sun continuously without glasses,” he said, noting a quick glance was no different than any other day. However, upon totality it was safe to look at and would be roughly as bright as the full moon on any given night.