Gridlock Guy: Eclipse traffic will be very different this time


An astronomical rarity will have some down-to-Earth consequences today, as thousands will flock to specific vantage points to spot a total solar eclipse. Georgia will not be in the stripe that sees a total blackout of the sun. This time around, Atlantans will get to see an odd spectacle without major strain on the roads. That is a far cry from what Georgia experienced in 2017.

Two Metro Atlanta school systems will change the learning plan around this event.

Coming off of a week-long spring break, DeKalb County will keep students at home for an independent learning day. Cobb County will release students early, ahead of when the eclipse begins in the area, which is around 1:45 p.m.

Some parts of the state were in eclipse-totality six years ago and nearly all Metro Atlanta schools delayed dismissals that day, given how much of the sun would be covered in town. One reason for the late releases was to eliminate road traffic during the peak of the eclipse and also to allow schools to use the blackout as a teaching tool.

In that August 21st event, sightseers flocked to the North Georgia mountains. This migration jammed many mountain roads coming to and from the best viewing spots. Some drivers bucked the demands of local authorities and parked on the shoulders of busy highways and sinuous mountain roads. Normally sleepy mountain and forest towns roared to life for a few precious hours. And the rush hour push away from these places created quite unusual jams in strange places.

We flew the WSB Skycopter then to the delays on I-85 in Commerce and on Hwy. 365 above where I-985 changes names. Those are strange places to see midday traffic on a weekday without some wreck or road work as a culprit.

The height of the August 2017 eclipse also had a staggeringly positive effect on the Metro Atlanta streets during the peak totality. They were nearly deserted, at least by Atlanta’s standards, as people pulled out of traffic to witness the nearly full eclipse intown. For a brief moment, the world seemed to stop.

The skies eerily darkened and the temperatures dropped for that ephemeral few minutes. And birds chirped and cats and dogs got along - or something like that.

It was essentially a holiday.

Georgia will not quite see such an effect this time around.

A band of about 15 states will see a total eclipse over a 68-minute stretch today. The totality-band will start in Texas and move on an arc up to Maine, missing Georgia. Georgians will still experience that mystical darkness, just not in full. But 80-something percent of sun-coverage is still a B-average, right?

Some folks are planning on skipping town to view the eclipse in this rare totality zone, as the U.S. won’t experience the phenomenon for another nine years. That small exodus could put a bit of pressure on I-75 in northwest Georgia, but the totality band barely grazes northwest Tennessee. So the Peach State really will not feel the traffic jams anywhere close to what it felt in 2017.

The release that DeKalb Schools sent to parents postures the day as a celebratory event (Fernbank Science Center is holding “Eclipse Fest” from noon to 5 p.m.) - a day for students to have “safe viewing and instructional opportunities,” the announcement said. One has to think some Metro Atlanta adults will have some at-home “learning” days, too. That should help the rush hours.

One thing that Atlantans should not get hot and bothered about is any added driving danger because of the brief midday darkness, despite the hype. For one, there was not a dramatic darkness during the 2017 event - certainly not enough to impede driving. And there is not going to be this major rush to head to the mountains and squeeze on to small roads to view a less prominent eclipse.

As the sun does disappear in the early afternoon, there is one danger to avoid. Drivers should not pull over on the shoulders of the road to view the height of the eclipse, nor should they try to film it from behind the wheel. And people should not wear the super-tinted eclipse glasses while driving. There are plenty of parking lots to hang in for the brief few moments of curiosity with phones in hand and glasses on. Or people could just plan to be at home or in a nice viewing place beforehand.

Events like this partial eclipse in Georgia are the spice of life. These are the nods from nature that interrupt the grind of life. And thankfully, this time around, this aberration should not be a huge Atlanta traffic event. We do not mind missing those.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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