Our Chicago: Total solar eclipse travel tips, dealing with massive crowds

ByLarry Mowry and Kay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, April 7, 2024
Our Chicago

CHICAGO (WLS) -- After years of anticipation, what's being called the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2024 is just hours away.

It will move from Mexico, into the U.S. and then Canada, before moving out to sea.

Parts of Illinois and Indiana are in the 115-mile-wide path of totality, which is the area where the moon blocks the sun 100%.

The path includes Carbondale, which was also in the path of totality in 2017. Many people are headed there, including a group from the Adler Planetarium.

Massive crowds from Chicago are preparing to travel down to southern Illinois and Indiana for the 2024 Great American Total Solar Eclipse on Monday.

"It's just such an exciting thing for us being all true astronomy geeks," Dr. Geza Gyuk, director of astronomy at Alder Planetarium, said.

He was near Carbondale for the 2017 eclipse.

"It's just, it's otherworldly it's just wonderful and just such an experience because the quality of the light as totality approaches it starts getting strange, and there's weird patterns of shadows on the ground. And then totality occurs and there's this marvelous sort of, thing in the sky," Gyuk said. "You never experience anything like it looks like there's an eclipse, well it is an eclipse, it looks like a sunset all around you 360 degrees. The birds stop singing, it becomes dark, you can see stars in the sky. It's very strange."

ABC News reports that the total solar eclipse is expected to be the largest mass travel event this year in the U.S.

Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb has declared a state of emergency, expecting massive crowds. 100,000 to 200,000 people are expected in the prime viewing area in Southern Illinois.

Maria Castaneda, a spokesperson with IDOT, joined ABC7 to speak about travel plans for people going downstate from the Chicago area for the eclipse.

A good number of those will be from the Chicago area, but before people get in the car and head south, the Illinois Department of Transportation has some advice.

Maria Castaneda, a spokesperson with IDOT, says people have to think of it like any trip.

"Plan ahead, map out your route, make sure you have it clearly defined which route you're going to be taking," she said. "Also use various travel apps."

There are various ways to head south.

"I know that I-57, if you're leaving here from Chicago, is a pretty direct route, but you can also hop on I-55 and connect with 64," Castaneda said. "It really depends on where you're heading from, what route you're going to use. Give yourself a lot of extra time, because there's going to be expected big crowds so it's going to take you much longer than your normal trip, if you typically do drive to southern Illinois. And if you're not, and you're not aware of it, then you definitely need to give yourself extra time because you're going into an area you're not that well versed with."

It's not only going to be crowded on the drive south, but also the drive home.

"Plan to stay for a little while. There's some beautiful areas to see. Enjoy what southern Illinois can provide," Castaneda said. "Leave a little later than maybe you intended to drive back and you could hopefully avoid some of the really big heavy crowds."