As eclipse fever hit most of the U.S. Monday, cities across the country were prepared for major traffic snarls. Roughly two-thirds of the nation's population lives within a day's drive of the eclipse path and 12.2 million Americans live inside the path of totality, a 60- to 70-mile-wide path that cut across the nation diagonally from Oregon to South Carolina. Traffic was projected to be about as epic as the eclipse ... and it was.
Many states saw record-breaking backups. According to The Denver Post, Wyoming set several records. For some Denver residents driving to Wyoming to see the eclipse, a normally four-hour jaunt became a 10- to 12-hour road trip. The newspaper reports that the number of cars leaving Wyoming after the eclipse rivaled the 636,294 registered cars and pickup trucks in the state.
Traffic was particularly bad coming out of urban areas in the path of totality, like Portland, Ore. Oregon officials asked eclipse travelers to stagger their departure times to ease congestion, but reports from The Oregonian still showed hours of delays coming in and out of the city throughout the entire day.
Chicago was another hot spot. Photographer Evan Sears decided to skip the major highways on his motorcycle ride home to Chicago from southern Illinois after the eclipse, but the jams on rural byways were just as heavy.
"While I did anticipate heavy traffic based on reports leading up to the event, I didn't think that the backroads would be so jammed," Sears said. "I was banking on staying off the interstate and having a nice leisurely drive through rural surface roads, but apparently I was not alone in that idea."
Sears added: "There were many areas where a rural four-way stop had a ripple effect that could take 20 minutes to get through. Add up a bunch of those, along with a much lower average speeds due to the amount of cars on the roads, and it took the fun out of the drive. There were a few patches of thunderstorms, as well, which slowed traffic down even more and thoroughly soaked me."
All told, Sears was on the road for 10 hours.
According to the Chicago Tribune, some drivers reported spending as much as 16 hours in the car trying to get from southern Illinois to Chicago, a trip that usually takes 5 or 6 hours.
The good news? The next total eclipse in North America is on April 8, 2024. By then, we'll either be kicking back as a passenger in an autonomous car or flying our cars, right?!