Traffic headaches were less severe than feared, weather for the most part cooperated, and most people seemed to have a good time.
Columbia’s moment in the sun — and out of it — apparently created few problems for local residents and the thousands of tourists who visited. As predicted, the biggest challenge came post-eclipse, when motorists leaving town mixed with commuters driving home from work.
Still, local event organizers were thrilled with the weekend.
“We got to show this town off right,” said Emile DeFelice, an organzer of Soda City, Columbia’s Saturday morning market on Main Street.
Here’s a snapshot of what officials say went right and wrong:
Travel to eclipse-viewing events was relatively smooth but leaving was more congested.
Some visitors such as Chad Edralina of Virginia Beach, Va., decided to avoid the immediate rush home by going first to an early dinner and hitting the road near sunset. “It’ll be a lot easier,” he said.
Ben Faircloth was among those eager to return home because he was due back in class Tuesday at his Fort Myers, Fla., high school. “We’ll go the back roads” out of Columbia to avoid any congestion en route to I-95, he said.
The Columbia Police Department and S.C. Highway Patrol reported no major accidents or tie-ups from eclipse-goers leaving town.
"Collisions were minimal — less than what would be expected on a normal day during the week," said Lance Cpl. David Jones of the Highway Patrol.
There was heavy congestion at the fairgrounds and on the major corridors afterward, including I-20 westbound, I-77 northbound and I-26 westbound.
But traffic wasn’t as bad as in other parts of the state, Jones said.
That’s was caused in part by most schools being closed and many workers taking the afternoon off.
“Schools really did us a favor by pushing their openings back,” Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said.
Most years, South Carolina schools can open on the third Monday in August, which was eclipse day. But most school districts pushed back opening day until Tuesday or Wednesday.
No classes reduced traffic significantly because it kept buses off roads as well as parents taking children to and from schools.
The decision also freed up three dozen of Koon’s deputies from keeping watch over classrooms to assist with eclipse-related traffic and security.
Organizers of local eclipse activities were “a wee bit nervous” that clouds might obscure the event, said Katie Montgomery, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association.
“In the end, Mother Nature really cooperated,” she said.
Clouds across Lexington and Richland counties largely disappeared during the total eclipse , according to Chris Rohrbach, a meterologist with the local office of the National Weather Service.
Clouds remained around Fort Jackson and in parts of Lower Richland, with isolated areas experiencing brief showers during the eclipse, he said.
The temperature at Columbia Metropolitan Airport dropped 4 degrees — from 93 to 89 — during the eclipse and as much as 10 degrees in other parts of the area, he said.
A largely sunny sky here contrasted with clouds “over most of the coast,” Rohrbach said.
How many came
It’ll be a few days until state officials estimate how many people came to the Palmetto State for the eclipse.
Pre-eclipse estimates suggested as many as a million may come, with half of them headed to the Columbia area, where the viewing period of about 2 minutes and 30 second was among the longest on the East Coast.
“People trickled in all weekend” instead of coming large waves, said Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.
It’s too soon to measure the economic impact in Columbia from the eclipse, local tourism officials say.
But there are hints: Nearly all of the Columbia area’s 11,159 hotel rooms were sold out on Sunday and Monday. And 740 homeowners will earn $143,000 from rentals, according to Airbnb.
Preliminary attendance reports at some of the major venues for viewing the eclipse include 12,000 at the State Fairgrounds; 9,624 at the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball game at Spirit Communications Park; 8,834 at Riverbanks Zoo; 7,000 at the Historic Columbia Speedway in Cayce; 3,042 at the State Museum; and 3,000 total at two sites next to the Lake Murray dam.
In addition, organizers estimate 6,500 visitors mostly from out-of-town attended a special brunch Soda City organizers held in downtown Columbia on Sunday.
Based on social media reactions and personal feedback, a year of preparation paid off, local tourism officials said.
The 120 eclipse-related events “really showcased our city,” Montgomerysaid.
A dozen visitors interviewed by The State Media Co. during the weekend echoed that sentiment.
“Columbia is just a gem, with interesting things to see and friendly people,” said Steve Pouliot of Venice, Calif. “It should be on everybody’s list to visit.”
Staff writer Teddy Kulmala contributed to this story.