(KILLEEN, Texas) — A small county in Texas is bracing for a state of emergency when hundreds of thousands of skywatchers are expected to flock to the South for the total solar eclipse in April.
Bell County Judge David Blackburn issued a local disaster declaration this week, ahead of the April 8 natural phenomenon, saying the county’s population of 400,000 residents is expected to double in tourists.
The declaration allows Bell County to coordinate with the state’s Department of Emergency Management if needed on eclipse day.
“In order to protect the health, safety, and welfare of both residents and visitors, Bell County has determined that extraordinary measures must be taken in the form of a local disaster declaration,” the county said in a press release Wednesday.
Bell County is expecting the influx of eclipse viewers in the area to cause traffic congestion, shortages of food and fuel and cellular network congestion, according to the release.
The declaration also requires property owners planning to host events with over 50 attendees to register with the county to ensure proper “life safety and critical infrastructure” is in place.
“Registering information will provide public safety officials and first responders with important information that will aid them during this period when roads and highways may be stressed, and responders may be impeded by population conditions,” the release notes.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth and, for a short time, completely blocks the face of the sun, according to NASA.
In the U.S., the path of totality begins in Texas and will travel through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Small parts of Tennessee and Michigan will also experience the total solar eclipse, the agency reports.
April’s total solar eclipse will be the last of its kind to occur in North America for 20 years and is expected to be the largest mass travel event in 2024, Michael Zeiler, expert solar eclipse cartographer, told ABC News.
Zeiler compared eclipse day travel to “50 simultaneous Super Bowls across the nation,” saying 4 million people are estimated to travel to view the eclipse.
“When you look at the number of people expected to come to the path of totality for the solar eclipse, we estimate those numbers are roughly the equivalent of 50 simultaneous Super Bowls across the nation, from Texas to Maine,” he said.
Zeiler said Texas is a prime place for eclipse chasers to head to because it is located in the path of totality and has the best chances for clear skies on eclipse day.
“You want to be in the center of the path for the longest duration,” Zeiler explained. “If you have a friend or relative in the path in Texas, and there are 12 million Texans inside the path, that’s the spot to go because that’s where the best weather prospects are.”
Zeiler explained how eclipse travel should be celebrated, despite the hazard of heavy tourism, “All of us are united in pursuing the unimaginable beauty of a total solar eclipse.”
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