Wyoming’s population may have nearly tripled for a day during Monday’s total solar eclipse, according to early estimates.
Initial numbers by the Wyoming Department of Transportation reported a 536,000-car increase over the five-year average for that day, almost 68 percent more than normal.
“If you go by yesterday... and figure two people in every car, you could say roughly a million people,” said Jeff Goetz, a public information officer for the department.
While traffic counts are not an exact measurement of visitors, executive director of the Wyoming Office of Tourism, Diane Shober, agreed that it’s possible upwards of 1 million people may have visited Wyoming for the eclipse.
“I would not like to speculate too far, but at the very least on the low side we doubled, and maybe we even tripled our population,” she said. Wyoming’s current population sits around 585,000.
The office of tourism will compile data from a comprehensive study on visitor numbers and the eclipse’s economic impact on Wyoming. Representatives spent Monday talking with visitors and locals in all 23 counties, Shober said.
“While the visitors swelled on Monday, think of the numbers leading up to the people coming early,” she said. “In Pinedale, we heard reports of people who had been there for two weeks. And visitors staying longer.”
Casper/Natrona County International Airport director Glenn Januska did not have numbers for passengers on commercial flights into Casper. Atlantic Aviation, which coordinated private aircraft, also could not comment on the number of flights.
One plane, however, landed on Alcova Reservoir, a possible first. The sea plane touched down in the middle of the reservoir on Monday morning flown by a Colorado native who currently lives in the Bahamas, said Janet Milek, spokesperson for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in Casper.
Game wardens treated his vessel as a boat, and made sure he had a life vest, which he was wearing, and his proper aquatic invasive species inspection. With the exception of the rare aircraft, Alcova and Pathfinder reservoirs were relatively calm on Monday.
“There were a ton of campers there, but they were not recreating on the water,” Milek said.
Grand Teton National Park, which was expected to experience the busiest day in history, did not have numbers immediately available. Spokeswoman Denise Germann said they would be released Wednesday.
Traffic counts showed an increase of 217,000 on Sunday, but the big push was Monday morning. Vehicles lined up at a standstill on parts of Interstate 25 near Cheyenne and Glendo. Some reported it took 10 hours to get from Orin Junction to Fort Collins, a 160-mile drive.
For the dramatic increase in people, WYDOT reported relatively few problems.
“We still had people pulling over on the interstate, which we knew we would have. Depending on traffic, we knew all along no matter where you were trying to get to, when that time came, that’s where you would be viewing it from, which for a lot of people was stuck in traffic on I-25,” Goetz said. “Overall, I didn’t have reports of anything major.”
The biggest increases were in Laramie County with 209,394 more vehicles than normal, according to a WYDOT news release. Other busy counties included Converse, with 40,220 more vehicles, Albany with 34,692 and Fremont with 32,973.
“The traffic counts also don’t reflect all traffic movement in the state as all roads don’t have counters,” the WYDOT release stated.
Star-Tribune crime reporter Shane Sanderson contributed to this report.