Could a cloudy eclipse day mean a mass exodus – and traffic nightmare – for Columbia?

SC officials on eclipse traffic: 'We're ready'

State's emergency preparedness agencies' plans for handling influx of visitors for 2017 solar eclipse
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State's emergency preparedness agencies' plans for handling influx of visitors for 2017 solar eclipse

As hard as it is to predict what Columbia will be like for Monday’s once-in-a-lifetime total eclipse, a questionable weather forecast isn’t making it any easier.

If it’s cloudy in the capital city, it’s possible many of the tens or even hundreds of thousands of people expected in town could consider fleeing on short notice to find clearer vantage points – perhaps to the Upstate.

That could mean a “nightmare” on the roads, said Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas.

“Especially if (people have) taken off work and they’ve made a vacation out of this, they’re going to say, ‘I’m not missing this,’” Wright said. But, “I wouldn’t encourage folks to just hop in their cars and start taking off to find another place. You’re going to end up probably being stuck in traffic.”

Her advice: Plan ahead where you’re going to view the eclipse. Get where you’re going early. Then stay put.

“Two hours out from the eclipse is not the time to decide where you want to be,” said Sgt. Bob Beres of the S.C. Highway Patrol, who echoed Wright’s advice. “Don’t wait until the last minute to decide you want to go watch it in another part of the state, because you might not make it before the eclipse happens.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the 2017 solar eclipse in South Carolina.

As of Wednesday, the Weather Channel is predicting a 50 percent chance of rain and scattered thunderstorms in Columbia on Monday. The National Weather Service predicts a 40 percent chance of rain and “partly sunny” skies.

The forecast for the Charleston area is about the same as Columbia. But the Upstate has a smaller chance of rain and thunderstorms – around 30 percent.

Law enforcement agencies plan to line the highways that day, particularly focusing on Interstate 26, which roughly follows the eclipse’s path of totality from the Upstate to the Lowcountry.

But they won’t be reversing any lanes to change the flow of traffic, Beres said.

Columbia eclipse weekend organizers have been preparing for the possibility of bad weather for months, said Merrit McNeely, marketing director for the S.C. State Museum.

That’s why the city is promoting a whole weekend of eclipse-themed events for visitors, McNeely said.

“If we can bring them here and show them a great time, even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, we can leave them with a great memory,” McNeely said.

Parties, tailgating and rooftop viewings are in the works around Columbia for Monday, and the State Museum itself is hosting a sold-out eclipse-viewing event Monday.

And the museum has its own “Plan B” in case of clouds covering the eclipse. Viewing screens will stream the eclipse as it’s recorded by NASA balloons above the clouds, McNeely said.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

Eclipse day forecasts in South Carolina

Please remember that the forecasts can change between now and Monday!

Columbia: Partly cloudy with afternoon showers or thunderstorms. A 50 percent chance of rain.

Greenville: Some clouds and possibly an isolated thunderstorm in the afternoon. A 30 percent chance of rain.

Charleston: Cloudy skies with scattered morning thunderstorms. A 60 percent chance of rain.

Source: The Weather Channel

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