Preparing for the Great Solar Eclipse of 2024

By Josh Curtis
AAC Governmental Affairs Director

If you are just now starting to plan for this event you are a little behind schedule. From Little River County to Randolph County, the sky will go dark around 1:45 p.m. on April 8. This will be a path of totality over 100 miles wide. The moon will be moving at a pace of about 1,850 mph; the sky will be dark for a little over 4 minutes; and Arkansas has been identified as one of the prime spots to watch the total solar eclipse. Such an event will not happen again until 2044. I did not understand the buzz about it until I attended our 2023 annual AAC conference. One of our breakout sessions was “Preparing for the 2024 Solar Eclipse.” I have been to many breakout sessions at our conference over the years, and this one was by far the best attended one I have been a part of.

The first speaker on the panel was Van Buren County Judge Dale James. Van Buren County has been preparing for the eclipse since 2017 when James, then a justice of the peace, went to Carbondale, Illinois, to study their preparation and response to the August 2017 total solar eclipse. Van Buren County then set up an Eclipse Committee that set criteria for events to be advertised on the county website.

“I went to Carbondale, Illinois, for the specific purpose of finding missed opportunities. The largest opportunity was in breakfast offerings the day of the eclipse. The drive-thru for McDonalds stretched for six blocks while other businesses were not open,” James said. “With the (2024) event falling shortly after lunchtime, eclipse enthusiasts will be looking to fill their bellies before they arrive at their venue. While they fill their bellies, they fill our wallets with tax revenue. We all need to make sure that we do not leave any opportunity on the table. We have one shot at seizing this opportunity, at least for many years to come.”

Conway County Judge Jimmy Hart has a prime spot to view the eclipse on Petit Jean Mountain. Conway County skies will be dark for over 4 minutes because they are right on the centerline of totality. The Conway County Quorum Court passed a temporary land use permit ordinance to provide guidelines for property owners. This permit allows for short-term activities or events to which the public may be invited, and which are conducted on private property. It talks about the landowner being responsible for sanitation, lighting, and making sure emergency vehicles have access to the sight. There will be a fee and a refundable deposit, with the expectation of the property being returned to pre-event condition. People want to be in the rural areas without lights so they can have the full experience of watching the eclipse.

Pope County Judge Ben Cross said his county and the city of Russellville have been working together for over a year to prepare for an influx of up to 120,000 visitors leading up to April 8.

“We have monthly meetings where every discipline of both public and private sector come together to plan for everything from emergency preparedness to food and lodging to public events being planned to help mitigate the mass exodus that is expected to occur when the eclipse concludes,” Cross said. “We have reached out to three other communities where this has occurred previously for their emergency operations plans and lessons learned … We feel we have prepared exceptionally well and will perform in the most effective means possible, based on our working group that has devoted hundreds of hours to creating an overall roadmap of what is expected.”

Many astronomy magazines have depicted Russellville as the ninth best location in the country to view the event, and a team of NASA scientists and astronauts plan to broadcast live from downtown.

“We fully expect the buildup and hype around the event will become a reality … unless of course it rains. However, even in the event of cloud cover, we have learned the Little Rock Air Force Base will be providing NASA with a C-130 that will be orbiting overhead to relay in real time, the eclipse from above any cloud deck, so as you see, virtually every angle of this event is planned out,” Cross said.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) is a key stakeholder that counties rely on heavily. ADEM Director A.J. Gary said his department has been working with local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private-sector partners over the past year to prepare for the event.

“We are expecting an influx of visitors in Arkansas to experience the eclipse,” he said. The State Emergency Operations Center will be activated before, during, and after the eclipse to make sure we are ready to assist. We want our visitors to experience the great state of Arkansas and have a safe and enjoyable visit.”

ADEM has also announced the launch of a unique web portal ( that will provide visitors with details on special eclipse events planned across the state.

The last speaker of our breakout session at conference was KNWA Meteorologist Dan Skoff, and he was super excited about the eclipse. He said it’s the most amazing thing to witness. He said he will travel to Ohio if Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri have cloud cover on April 8. Of course, he explained the science behind the eclipse and why it is so rare. Then he told us all the interesting things we would see during the eclipse. For instance, the corona — the Sun’s outer atmosphere — can only be seen during a total solar eclipse. The corona is made up of beautiful wispy, white streamers of plasma (charged gas) that radiate from the surface of the Sun. Baily’s Beads — a thin band of lights — appear on the edge of the circumference of the Moon just before and after totality. This effect happens because the Moon’s rugged terrain allows beads of sunlight to pass through the Moon’s valleys and craters, but the mountains block the sunlight causing a beaded edge of the Sun. The Diamond-Ring Effect occurs just after totality is finished as the Moon passes by the Sun allowing just a small point of light to appear while the corona remains visible.

The average John-Q publics are becoming more and more aware of this event. With school districts closing and some courthouses closing, people will be out and about. I have even been told that the trucking industry is recommending no big truck traffic in the state that day. People from all over the world have made reservations in our state parks. This will be a significant event, and I recommend you communicate with your constituents as much as possible. Now let’s pray for a pretty sunny day April 8.

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