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Those in the path of totality for the eclipse might have to watch out for traffic

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

In a large strip of the U.S., people, so many people, are breaking out their eclipse glasses and getting ready for a few minutes of darkness tomorrow when the moon passes in front of the sun. NASA says that a little less than half of the U.S. population lives within 200 miles of the path of totality, which could mean millions of Americans taking to the road. Thinking about going last minute? Well, listen to this report from NPR's Geoff Brumfiel before you do.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: Jonathan Upchurch saw the last total solar eclipse back in 2017.

JONATHAN UPCHURCH: It was absolutely spectacular.

BRUMFIEL: And he's headed to this one as well.

UPCHURCH: Once you've seen it once, you really want to see another one again if you can.

BRUMFIEL: Upchurch isn't just your average eclipse watcher, though. He's a professor emeritus of civil engineering at Arizona State University, and he studied traffic during eclipses. The 2017 eclipse drew millions, and that caused big delays.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Wyoming's never experienced this amount of traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Traffic is getting heavier.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Kentucky State Police officers are sending out their chopper to monitor the unfolding traffic situation.

BRUMFIEL: It more than doubled travel times in some areas. And if you think that sounds bad, Upchurch says this eclipse could be even worse because far more people live within driving distance of the path of totality.

UPCHURCH: There are some huge metropolitan areas that are within a three-hour drive. We're talking Chicago, Houston, Toronto, Boston, Detroit.

BRUMFIEL: OK, maybe you live in one of those cities, and you're pondering a quick trip. Upchurch says here's what you need to think about. First, he says, decide on where to go. Check not just the weather but also the cloud cover forecast to ensure you've got the best shot of a clear view. In many cases, traffic might be a little heavy going in, but he says it's really the trip back out after the eclipse that's going to get you.

UPCHURCH: Leaving is definitely going to be more of a problem.

BRUMFIEL: Make sure you've got snacks, water and, most importantly, plenty of fuel in your gas tank or charge in your battery. Some experts also suggest carrying a paper map just in case the cell networks get clogged and you have to navigate without your phone. Of course, another good solution is to just stick around for a while after the eclipse to let things clear out.

There's also more than 31 million Americans that NASA says live within the path of totality, and if you're one of them, lucky you. You don't really need to go anywhere. But Upchurch says depending on where you live, you may want to think about making a quick trip just to get more time in the moon's shadow.

UPCHURCH: I would say if you're within about 40 miles of the centerline, you'll have 2 1/2 minutes or more.

BRUMFIEL: It's really up to you. Finally, departments of transportation across the country ask you, beg you, not to randomly pull off to the side of the road and gawk at the eclipse. Be safe. Exit roads, and park in designated areas. And when you do pull over, be sure to put on your eclipse glasses. You can only take them off during that brief period when the moon completely blocks the sun. Safe travels, everyone. Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Geoff Brumfiel works as a senior editor and correspondent on NPR's science desk. His editing duties include science and space, while his reporting focuses on the intersection of science and national security.

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