Eclipse Turnout Below Projections

27 Aug

Along with witnessing the remarkable eclipse itself, obviously, I was interested to see what kind of visitor turnout there would be locally for the big event. Forecasts were difficult, because there is no precedent for an event like this. It is understandable that officials wanted to err on the high side in order to avoid getting swamped with unexpected numbers. Some projections that were published locally included a doubling of the county population on eclipse day (our current population is about 225,000) and up to 40,000 people in DeSoto, at the center of the path of totality.

But let’s take a look at some actual visitor estimates, as reported in the Leader and elsewhere:

Hillsboro: “hundreds…viewed the eclipse at Jefferson College.”

Arnold: “hundreds..gathered at Arnold City Park.” “Crowds were lighter” at the Saturday and Sunday events. “Traffic…was much lighter than expected.”

De Soto: “1,500 to 2,000 people. “Parking lots around town still had plenty of spaces.”

Festus: “Near-capacity crowd” at West City Park. “A parks department guy…thought there were 4,000 people” but the fire chief thought it was higher. The police chief estimated 12-15,000 at West City Park. KMOV says Festus had over 20,000 total visitors.

Herculaneum: “crowd of about 1,000 at Herculaneum High…200 more at City Park.”

These number don’t include others who watched at private homes or other viewing events hosted by businesses (like Surdyke Harley or Villa Antonio Winery), churches, baseball fields, etc.

Festus seems to have drawn the most local visitors, which I attribute to its location near I-55 and the fact that it advertised one site for all its festivities. De Soto had a longer totality, but their marketing was basically “here are a bunch of places in town to watch.” Festus has many more hotel rooms than De Soto, also, so that was likely a factor.

I did not expect Arnold to get many visitors, since it only experienced 2 minutes 8 seconds of totality at the park where it hosted an event. People who traveled for the eclipse were going to try to get as much totality as possible (De Soto got half a minute more than Arnold), and thus bypass cities further from the center of the path of totality. And locals, I think, were more likely to avoid the crowds and watch from the comforts of home, where air conditioning, bathrooms, and fridges were available, even sacrificing a dozen or two seconds of totality in exchange for convenience.

For a nearby data point, Jefferson City’s turnout was about half of what was predicted.

Traffic

The Leader also reports that the weekend was “peaceful and traffic congestion-free,”and that backups did not occur until Monday morning in the 9 am hour on southbound roads. There were some northbound backups after totality ended. According to MODOT, 55 South was “fairly heavy, but steady” on eclipse morning and “fairly heavy” on 55 North afterwards. This is what I noticed as well. As with many parts of the country, traffic was worse after the eclipse than before it.

However, MODOT also said the traffic was “what they expected.” These results are not consistent with the department’s warnings leading up to the eclipse of massive traffic. MODOT also said that there was heavy traffic Saturday, which I don’t think we really saw here in JeffCo. In line with what Arnold said, there were not big Saturday visitor numbers. I did not see reports about attendance at Herky’s weekend events, but I did attend the parade there Saturday morning and the crowd was light. I think the vast majority of eclipse visitors came to town Sunday night or even Monday morning, in part due to the fact that our county’s limited hotel room inventory was all booked up. Even in Carbondale, site of the longest duration of total eclipse, the visitor numbers were reportedly underwhelming on Saturday and into early Sunday, though things definitely picked up after that.

Weather Impact

The weather may have played some role in reducing the number of visitors to the area. Right up until eclipse morning, the forecast was for approximately 50 percent clouds over our area. Serious eclipse viewers may have decided at the last minute to head for other locales, such as the Nashville area, where the forecast was for clear skies. That’s what the head of the St Louis Eclipse Task Force did. However, it sounds like Nashville had more cloud issues than we did. From my vantage point, clouds only covered the sun for one brief moment an hour before totality.

On the other hand, the forecast was worse in the Columbia and Kansas City areas, so we have have received a last-minute bump from people redirecting from points west.

Again, I don’t blame anyone for overestimating how many visitors we would receive for the eclipse. I just think it is worthwhile to compare projections to reality. After all, there’s another eclipse in seven years (JeffCo residents will have to travel a bit for that one – SEMO, here I come), and we have to start planning soon. Tip #1: BUY YOUR DANG GLASSES WELL IN ADVANCE!

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