The April total solar eclipse could snarl traffic for hours across thousands of miles

March 29, 2024 in News by RBN Staff



Kayla Jimenez


Editor’s note: An early cloud forecast for the April 2024 total solar eclipse is in. Read the latest eclipse forecast and news as of Friday, March 29.

Millions of Americans will be looking to the sky during a rare total solar eclipse on April 8, and experts warn the excitement could create dangerous and busy traffic conditions as people pack into the narrow band of the country with the best view.

“Pack your patience, whether traveling a great distance or locally, people will be out and about to catch a glimpse of the eclipse,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association.

Roads could be especially packed at the center of the eclipse’s path as Americans who want the best view crowd into cities, towns and remote areas, many without the infrastructure to handle big crowds.

A similar scenario played out in 2017 during the nation’s last total solar eclipse, where congestion in some areas lasted for up to 13 hours after the totality of the eclipse, according to Transportation Research News, a National Research Council publication. An analysis of traffic patterns from that year suggests that the worst of the traffic — both on big interstates and rural backroads — will kick off after the eclipse ends and everyone tries to exit all at once.

This year, in Ohio’s Lorain County, county officials are warning residents to be aware about the increase in visitors, traffic and jammed roads — and possible cell phone signal drops.

“What we could have is crowds here that we’re not used to,” wrote Dave Freeman, the director of Lorain County Emergency Management. “We’re not set up infrastructure-wise for that, we don’t have the roads.”

Where will traffic be the worst during 2024 total solar eclipse?

Roads in states where sky gazers will travel to see the centerline of totality will be most prone to traffic jams.

Even though Oklahoma only has a small corner of the state in the path of totality, the state “is expected to receive an influx of anywhere from 17,000 to 66,000 visitors to watch the solar eclipse,” reads an announcement from Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Officials there are warning residents “the large influx of visitors to southeastern Oklahoma could overwhelm and backup the area’s road systems,” including two-lane highways passing through small towns.

They advise residents to expect hotels and visiting areas at maximum capacity, increased traffic and delays in deliveries.

Eclipse forecast:Will the 2024 eclipse still look good if it’s cloudy? What to know about cloud forecasts.

The last total solar eclipse snarled US traffic

Wyoming Department of Transportation spokesman Doug McGee said more than 536,000 cars filled the state’s streets after the eclipse in 2017 and the state highway system “was taxed like it’s never been before,” The Denver Post reported.

And “travel from Casper, Wyoming, to Denver, Colorado—normally a 4-hour trip—took 10 hours or more,” according to an analysis of traffic from Transportation Research News.

The analysis’s author Jonathan Upchurch said most sky gazers traveled to the paths of totality by car, “roadways experienced very little traffic congestion on the days leading up to totality” and “almost every Interstate route passing through the path of totality showed red on Google Traffic maps” after the eclipse reached totality.

The 2017 traffic woes followed warnings from officials.

Be careful if you’re driving during the eclipse

Texas state officials are also warning drivers to “be on alert for distracted pedestrians looking to the sky.” They also say drivers should not wear eclipse glasses, which block out most light, while driving.

What time is the solar eclipse?Search your ZIP code for a viewing guide

Officials there and elsewhere along the solar eclipse’s line of totality are recommending drivers keep their headlights on, be mindful of pedestrians on the road and even stock up on essentials like fuel and food ahead of the eclipse.

AAA, which insures drivers across the country, is also warning people that sky gazers looking for a good view of the eclipse will be on the roads. They recommend drivers put their sun visors in their cars down to block their view of the sun and watch closely for pedestrian traffic.

Delicate streamers in the sun's corona surround the totally eclipsed sun during the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse. Observers along a narrow track from Mexico to Maine should have a similar view on April 8, 2024.

How should Americans prepare for traffic jams?

AAA and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol suggest several ways Americans can prepare for traffic jams related to the solar eclipse:

  • Plan ahead so you don’t have to travel to errands or appointments around when the eclipse is happening.
  • Don’t pull over on the side of a road or highway to view the eclipse — Find a parking area instead.
  • Fuel up before the eclipse and have some essentials on hand while traveling

When and where can you view the 2024 total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse happens when the moon blocks the sun’s light, leading to a period of partial or full darkness on Earth.

The path of totality, where the sun is fully blocked, in the U.S. begins in Texas and the eclipse starts around 1:27 p.m. local time.

Cities on the centerline of the April 8 eclipse include Dallas, Texas, Cleveland, Ohio and Buffalo, New York, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Contributing: Ashley May, Janet Loehrke, Ramon Padilla and Ahjané Forbes, USA TODAY

Contact Kayla Jimenez at kjimenez@usatoday.comFollow her on X at @kaylajjimenez.