Solar eclipse traffic and weather: Oregon feels the calm before totality
24 hours before totality
Clouds partially obscure the sun over Oregon Solarfest in Madras, Ore., precisely 24 hours in advance of Monday’s total solar eclipse. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

MADRAS, Ore. – Traffic to Oregon’s total eclipse zone has been surprisingly light over the past couple of days, but officials say they’re not out of the woods yet.

The traffic flow to Salem and Corvallis on the west side of the Cascades, and to Madras and points eastward on the dry side of the mountains, has been “very manageable,” Lou Torres, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, told GeekWire today.

“We do anticipate that it’ll pick up later this afternoon, and into tonight and Monday morning,” he said.

After Torres spoke, Oregon DOT and the Oregon State Police reported slowdowns on Highway 97 between Redmond and Madras. Tripcheck.com’s traffic flow map showed troublesome red spots, and traffic through downtown Madras was bumper-to-bumper.

Traffic in Madras
Tripcheck.com shows traffic backed up at a key intersection in Madras, Ore. (Tripcheck Map and Photo)

In advance of Monday’s total solar eclipse, transportation officials had warned that roads could be mired by travelers heading for Oregon and other Western states.

All of North America will see a partial solar eclipse: The moon will cover about 92 percent of the sun from Seattle’s perspective at the eclipse’s 10:20 a.m. peak.

But 100 percent darkness can be witnessed only along a 70-mile-wide path that stretches from the Oregon coast to South Carolina. Oregon DOT and other state agencies have been preparing for months for a tourist influx that was expected to amount to as many as a million visitors.

On Wednesday and Thursday, it looked as if the apocalypse was here: At one point, Highway 26 leading eastward from Prineville, Ore., was bogged down in a 30-mile traffic backup.

However, that traffic jam was transitory, due primarily to travelers heading for the Oregon Eclipse Festival at Big Summit Prairie in Ochoco National Forest. Once the crowd of 30,000 festivalgoers got settled, the roadways returned to normal.

It could be that the widely reported concerns about traffic delays and hard-to-find hotel rooms persuaded some would-be totality-seekers to forgo their trips. But it also could be that the lack of accommodations led travelers merely to delay their trips until closer to the time of totality.

“You certainly want to be careful,” Torres said. “People should be ready for longer wait times, more traffic, more congestion.” It’s a good idea to have extra water and food in the car, and a gas tank that’s as full as you can keep it.

As for the weather, Oregon’s mostly sunny forecast for Eclipse Day is holding.

University of Washington atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass said today that Salem and surrounding areas west of the Cascades hold the best promise of clear skies for totality. Coastal areas could be hit by low clouds or fog, while central Oregon’s skies could be dimmed by smoke from raging wildfires.

The Seattle area’s weather forecast calls for at least partly sunny weather during the partial eclipse’s midmorning peak. “Some residual clouds around the Sound,” Mass said. “Clouds along the coast.”

Even as Oregon officials are bracing for what could be a last-minute rush toward the total eclipse zone, the topic of conversation is turning to a related subject: the anticipated rush of thousands of eclipse-watchers heading back home right after Monday’s two minutes of totality.

For the Oregon traffic outlook, check in with TripCheck or the Twitter accounts for Oregon DOT and Oregon State Police. For regional weather, check the websites for the National Weather Service’s offices in Seattle and Portland.

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