Our Northwest

Avoid clouds, smoke, peril during Oregon eclipse

Tuesday, August 15, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

solar eclipse over OregonClouds may obscure Monday's much-anticipated solar eclipse in some Oregon locales, so if you go, keep an eye on updated weather forecasts. And tide tables.

Authorities warn eclipse-watchers not to camp on Oregon's ocean beaches Aug. 20 because of an unusually high tide of 9.5 feet that night. You'll stand little chance of clear viewing on the coast, anyway. For example, Accuweather predicts Newport will have 76% cloud cover and a midmorning temperature of just 61 degrees.

path of solar eclipse over Oregon 8.21.2017The long-range forecast shows your best-bet towns for clear eclipse views in the path of totality (where the sun is obscured 100%) include Madras, Redmond, and Ontario.

If you want to escape the crowds, the Salem Statesman-Journal compiled a list of 31 Oregon mountain hikes that offer great views within the path of totality.

Sadly, some of the best mountain destinations are closed to access because of wildfires like the huge blaze in the Mount Jefferson Wilderness. Access aside, wildfire smoke will obscure some skies elsewhere. Tuesday morning, Oregon authorities reported 11 "uncontained large fires" burning in the state had expanded by 2,643 acres.

Fire officials warn people not to drive off-road on dry brush and inadvertently ignite new fires. If that sounds overly cautious, it's not. Heat or sparks from vehicles can and have triggered wildfires. On Aug. 10, a car did exactly that in Maupin, south of The Dalles. In July, a car dragged its muffler on the road and sparked a fire near Oregon City.

Two summers ago, I was nearby when a fire started alongside State Route 10 near Cle Elum when a wheel bearing failed on a boat trailer, showering sparks onto parched weeds on the shoulder.

van drives offroad through dry brush, presenting fire dangerFires have even been started by a car backfiring through its exhaust pipe, or simply by the hot undercarriage contacting dry brush. Similarly, fire officials commonly ban the midday use of chainsaws in dry forested areas during the heat of summer. All it takes is one spark from a blade striking a rock or nail to ignite a blaze.

If you go to Oregon's total-eclipse zone, expect hordes that could number in the hundreds of thousands, leaving few if any lodging vacancies. And bring cash. Merchants fear that eclipse crowds may crash cloud-based credit card systems.

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