Eastern Idaho braces for massive influx of eclipse tourists

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — The total solar eclipse of 2017 is just three weeks away, and if you are planning a road trip to Idaho for the big event, you’re not alone.

“NASA started telling us we really need to be prepared for ten times our normal population,” Idaho Falls Fire Chief Dave Hanneman told Fox 13 News.

If weather permits, eclipse viewers in Idaho are in for a superb show as the "path of totality" – the swath of land over which the moon will completely block the sun - stretches across the gem state.

“In Salt Lake, you'll be able to see a partial eclipse which means that you'll see the moon partially obscure the sun, but it won’t go completely dark like it will here in Idaho Falls," said Chloe Doucette, the Director of Education for the Museum of Idaho Falls - which NASA has named an official viewing site for the eclipse.

“Birds will stop singing because they will think it's night time. You might hear crickets, and it'll obviously get colder because the sun is being blocked by the moon, so it will be a total sensory experience,” Doucette told Fox 13 News.

Serious star watchers started booking rooms in and around East Idaho long ago. “If you look at our Motel 6 here in Idaho Falls, it went for $950 a night, and multiple night minimum,” Hanneman said.

The scarcity of hotel rooms has prompted the city of Idaho Falls to open some city parks for overnight camping during the weekend leading up to the eclipse.

Some home and property owners in the area are hoping to cash in on the crowds, renting everything from homes to camping spots in fields on websites like VRBO and Craigslist.

“It will benefit our businesses and our restaurants and we're looking forward to that,” said Kerry Hammon, Public Information Officer for Idaho Falls.

But, with the opportunities come the headaches. A major one is an expected cellular service outage.

“Don't anticipate being able to go to Google and get directions here, because you may not have Internet. So make sure you have maps, hard copies of maps," Hammon said. “Pack supplies, water, food snacks, just plan way in advance and plan for delays."

While the exact number of eclipse visitors remains to be seen, the largest single concern at the moment is traffic

“If you think you can make it up in a day trip in that morning, you're probably not going to make it here with the amount of people trying to get here,” said Captain Steve Davis of the Idaho State Police.

Davis says aside from Utah visitors, expect I-15 to be busy with traffic coming from as far away as Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, as I-15 provides people who live in those cities access to Idaho.

The City of Idaho Falls has a website specifically for the eclipse. Tips on travel, events, accommodations and safety can be found at eieclipse.com