Where will the most crowded places be for the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024? (Image Credit: Space.com)
Texas could see a million visitors for the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024, while half a million could travel to Indiana and Ohio, according to new eclipse visitation estimates from eclipse cartographer Michael Zeiler at GreatAmericanEclipse.com.
You may have heard about specific events, cities promoting themselves and beauty spots that would make ideal eclipse-observing locations. But where will people actually go on April 8?
Zeiler’s eye-opening calculations are based on ArcGIS software and U.S. Bureau of the Census data, as well as a detailed digital road network for the U.S. They reveal the likely real-world destinations of millions on April 8 — and within the data are some crucial lessons for all eclipse-chasers.
If you’re yet to decide where to watch the eclipse, this analysis should help you predict where most people will head so you can plan ahead or get off the beaten track.
How many people will experience totality?
This total solar eclipse will be one of the most watched eclipses ever. On April 8, a path of totality 115 miles wide (185 kilometers) will cross North America from northern Mexico to south-eastern Canada via parts of 15 U.S. states. In the U.S., over 32 million people live on the path. Compare that to the 12 million who lived in the path of totality during the last total solar eclipse in the U.S. on August 21, 2017. Across North America, it’s 43.8 million, according to Timeanddate. Zeiler predicts that between 931,000 and 3.7 million will travel from outside the path of totality on eclipse day.
Where will eclipse-chasers go for the eclipse?
That would be Texas, Indiana and Ohio, according to this data. “Texas will enjoy most eclipse visitors next April 8 with a high estimate of just over a million visitors,” writes Zeiler. “Next are Indiana and Ohio, which can expect about a high estimate of about half a million people each.”
Texas will be popular because not only will it boast the longest possible duration of totality of anywhere in the U.S. — at 4 minutes, 26 seconds — but also because eclipse climatologist Jay Anderson states on his Eclipsophile website that the frequency of cloudy weather increases as the path moves northeast. Texas, therefore, has the highest chance of clear skies. Those who have planned well in advance will have studied these climate predictions. They will also study the maps of the path of totality and look to get as close as possible to the path’s centerline, where the duration is at its maximum.
However, those deciding to travel at the last minute will likely head to the nearest part of the path to where they live, with the drive shed data also taking into account that the people who live close to the path of totality are most likely to visit. That’s the geographic analysis at the heart of Zeiler’s predictions.
There is a significant random factor in all of this because many eclipse-chasers will decide where to watch the eclipse based on the weather forecasts a few days and even hours ahead.
The busiest cities for the eclipse
Not only does this path of totality reach the heavily populated northeastern region of the U.S., but within it are some significant metropolises. About a third of people living inside the path are in just 10 cities, including Mazatlán, Torreón, Dallas, Austin, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Montreal. However, there are also some big cities just outside the path. Zeiler predicts heavy traffic will come from San Antonio, Houston, Memphis, St Louis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Then there’s the eastern seaboard, too. “Half the population of the U.S. is within 250 miles of the path of totality — think about the impact of that,” said Zeiler to Space.com. “Just on the eastern seaboard, major cities from Boston down to Philadelphia are all within 200 or 250 miles of the path.”
The busiest places in Texas for the eclipse
“Texas is going to be an epicenter for this eclipse,” said Zeiler. “Texas has 12 million people who already live inside the path — all they need to do is step outside their porch to see the most glorious sight of their lives.”
Although Texas will likely be the “It “state for this eclipse, its Hill Country area will likely see most visitors. For example, the Dallas-Forth Worth area has a population of around seven million. Still, Zeiler predicts that only 24,500 to 90,000 will travel there for the eclipse (though visits from relatives and friends could significantly bolster that). The Hill Country destination in Texas that will likely see the most visitation is Kerrville, population 24,000, mainly because it’s easily accessible from San Antonio, on the southern edge of the path. Kerrville will get 4 minutes and 25 seconds of totality and host NASA’s Kerrville Eclipse Festival.
“People will realize that they can go from zero totality to four minutes totality just by driving an hour on Interstate 10, which runs northwest from San Antonio up here,” Kim Arvidsson, Associate Professor of Physics, Schreiner University, told Space.com, who on April 8 will host an event in Kerrville, Texas. “There’s going to be a vast increase in traffic that day.” Those from Austin have a little farther to go. “Fredericksburg seems a more likely destination for people in Austin, but they could get stopped in Johnson City,” Arvidsson said.
Many other places in Texas could be hectic on the day. After all, clear skies are where savvy eclipse-chasers head, which could mean places like Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Uvalde and Bandera. “While visitation estimates are lower for the Uvalde and Eagle Pass areas, we expect additional eclipse chasers because of the superior weather odds,” writes Zeiler. “A bonus in rural Texas will be a spectacular night sky.”
The busiest places in the Midwest for the eclipse
Dark skies could also attract many to rural Arkansas, though its locations close to major Interstates and large cities near the path look set to benefit from a significant uptick in visitors on eclipse day.
Zeiler predicts that Russellville, Arkansas, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri, could see 170,000 people, while Carbondale, Illinois, could reach 260,000. The latter will host the Southern Illinois Crossroads Eclipse Festival at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Saluki Stadium. With Nashville, Tennessee, and St Louis, Missouri, on either side of the path, southern Illinois will be busy.
“Indianapolis and surrounding suburbs will have many visitors from the Chicago area,” writes Zeiler, who predicts that as many as 432,000 could visit the city’s southern suburbs on the centerline.
Beware Interstate 90
Residents of Columbus and Detroit, both just outside the path of totality, will help make Ohio busy on eclipse day. Routes heading north of Columbus and south of Detroit will be best avoided, advises Zeiler.
The latter means skipping Interstate 90, which runs adjacent to Lake Erie from Detroit to Cleveland (where 113,000 could visit). According to the data, two little-talked-about destinations — Upper Sandusky and Norwalk, Ohio — could get over 100,000 visitors each. However, Interstate 90 could be useful for taking eclipse-chasers north and south between Cleveland and Buffalo in search of clear skies.
A potential busy spot within that is Erie, Pennsylvania, mainly because it’s the ideal place for Pittsburghers to aim for. Zeiler predicts 52,000-208,000 could visit.
According to these figures, three other surprise locations in the U.S. Northeast could be busy on eclipse day. Watertown and Plattsburgh, New York, could see over 170,000 visitors because they are on the centerline and easily accessible from the south. That’s also true for Richford on the Vermont/Canada border, which could draw 142,000.