Myrtle Beach may not be in the direct path of next week’s total eclipse, but the Grand Strand is along a main route for hordes of tourists who will be traveling U.S. 17 to reach the epicenter of the astronomical event.
Eclipse traffic is expected to begin as early as Friday and steadily increase over the weekend and into next week. The main event will hit its zenith above the Grand Strand at approximately 2:47 p.m. on Monday.
While tourists are expected to trickle into coastal hotels over several days, the minute the event is over and an estimated one million tourists leave at the same time, traffic could be a nightmare, said Sgt. Bob Beres with the S.C. Department of Public Safety.
“You can expect folks to check out of their hotel, eat lunch, watch the event and then head straight home because school is back in session the next day,” Beres said.
“Pack your family, pack your solar eclipse glasses, and pack your patience,” Beres said.
Beres also warned drivers not to park on the side of the road to watch the eclipse, or attempt to view it while driving down the highway.
It’s dangerous to stare at the eclipse without wearing protective eyewear, and even more dangerous to attempt to drive while wearing eclipse glasses because they block out almost all natural light and are impossible to see through.
Along the Grand Strand, traffic will be heaviest after the event northbound along U.S. 17 as traffic moves from Georgetown and Charleston to the North Carolina state line.
Further inland, traffic is also expected to be congested along S.C. 701 into and out of Georgetown.
When the eclipse occurs, Horry County residents will see a 99-percent blackout for at least two minutes of the event.
Unless it rains.
“Weather conditions may impact the entire thing,” said Randy Webster, Horry County emergency management director.
If it’s rainy or cloudy, day trippers are likely to abandon their plans, Webster said.
The National Weather Service will brief local officials Wednesday on its forecast for Monday.
Early predictions from the government agency state there is a chance of showers and thunderstorms that day.
Georgetown County is expecting a massive influx of tourists including thousands who will gather along the Murrells Inlet Marsh Walk.
Sam Hodge, director of emergency management for Georgetown County, said they expect a crowd equal to their busiest day of the year — 4th of July — and are planning accordingly.
“We’ve got it down to a science,” Hodge said of the inlet traffic control.
As for how many tourists will gather along historic Front Street or at dozens of watch events across Georgetown, Hodge said they can’t predict the numbers or impact on traffic.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Hodge said.
“It’s been quite a few years since the last eclipse, so no one can put a figure on it or exactly how the general public is going to react,” Hodge said.