In the hours before the sky turns dark on the afternoon of April 8, highways crisscrossing the Texas Hill Country, the scenic landscape west of Austin, are expected to turn into parking lots. A trip that might normally take an hour and a half could, because of traffic congestion, suddenly require eleven hours of driving. As rural towns are overwhelmed by travelers, local officials anticipate some problems—vehicles are expected to run out of gas, visitors could run out of food and water, and some convenience stores may run out of necessities. If history is any lesson, car wrecks may spike and scores of drivers could become stranded on the side of the road, increasing the risk of wildfires. Depending on your location, first responders may have difficulty reaching you if something goes wrong, especially once cell service becomes spotty and roadways are jammed with traffic. Local officials are reacting accordingly, prompting businesses to stock up on supplies and extra fuel for emergency responders and urging residents to load up on necessities ahead of time and make sure they have access to a landline. If this brings to mind images of stranded Houstonians fleeing Hurricane Rita along Interstate 10 in 2005, that may be because officials are treating the 2024 solar eclipse—almost certainly the biggest event in the region’s recorded history—like a giant party that has the potential to devolve into a natural disaster. 

In Texas, eclipse travelers are expected to crowd into a strip of land that cuts across the middle of the state from Texarkana to Eagle Pass, an area that is home to 12 million Texans. Though the eclipse itself, which occurs when the moon and the sun line up perfectly so that the moon blocks almost all the sun’s light, will last about the same amount of time as it takes to heat up a frozen burrito (around four and a half minutes at most), community leaders have, in some cases, been preparing for this moment for as long as seven years. They say they’re ready—or at least they think they are. “We don’t have anything to compare this to,” said Leslie Jones, a spokesperson for the Kerrville Convention and Visitors Bureau. Despite initial reports that Kerrville would see 500,000 visitors during the eclipse, officials say the number is probably closer to 200,000. Until now the city’s biggest event has been the annual Kerrville Folk Festival, which draws around 50,000 visitors over several weeks. “The only thing I can think to compare the eclipse to is a big-time sports event like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo or maybe the state fair, in Dallas,” Jones added. 

But while the State Fair of Texas draws around 2.3 million attendees over the course of several weeks, for the solar eclipse as many as 1.2 million visitors are expected to flood into Texas from out of state in a single weekend. Although some will head to Waco or the Dallas area, which also promise to be prime eclipse-viewing spots, a huge number of them will merge with Hill Country–bound crowds from Austin and San Antonio. The path of totality will stretch from Junction to the west side of San Antonio and offer some of the best settings in the United States for experiencing the eclipse. In February, Airbnb revealed that the company had seen a 1,000 percent surge in searches for stays along the path of totality. Austin, the company noted, along with the greater Hill Country, has emerged as among the most booked destinations in the United States, with Fredericksburg a “trending” destination among U.S. travelers. Texas Parks and Wildlife staffers in Enchanted Rock, around which officials are predicting five-mile-long traffic jams, received 98,000 phone calls from those seeking access to the park during the eclipse after tickets went live earlier this year. 

The urgency is partly because of the rarity of the phenomenon: the next total solar eclipse to be visible in continental U.S. won’t arrive until 2044. And the Hill Country may be an especially attractive destination because the region is enviably pleasant in the springtime. Dawn Davies, the night-sky program manager at the Hill Country Alliance, isn’t exactly surprised by the flood of interest in the region. “It’s bluebonnet season, peak bird migration, and it’s not too hot, not too cold, and not too humid right now,” she said, noting that in many communities lodgings are booked years in advance. “When you factor in the historical heritage, the charm, and the unique physical beauty we have in spades here, this eclipse is really, in essence, a perfect storm for this region.”

A handful of Central Texas counties—including Bell, Blanco, Burnet, Kendall, Kerr, Lampasas and Travis—have issued disaster declarations, making it easier for local officials to manage crowds and the strain they place on first responders and law enforcement. “We expect that kind of visiting traffic here to cause extreme traffic congestion on our roadways, place an enormous strain on our first responders and hospital systems, drain our food and fuel supplies and strain our city and county infrastructure to, quite possibly, over capacity,” Rob Kelly, the county judge of Kerr County, wrote in a disaster declaration this month. “I encourage you to stay off the roads and at home, if possible, on the day of the event.”

If you had to select ground zero for eclipse-related activities in Texas, it might be Kerrville, Kerr’s county seat, which is situated near the centerline of the path of totality. The town, which normally has a population of around 25,000, has spent much of the past decade gearing up for the eclipse. To get a better handle on what they were facing, local planners started by reading white papers and newspaper reports about past eclipses in other parts of the country. They spoke with police departments, fire departments, and mayors in the Pacific Northwest, in particular, learning what worked and what didn’t when visitors swarmed the area for an eclipse in 2017. As a result, Kerrville has made Monday, April 8, a mandatory workday for city employees, set up a traffic safety plan, and ensured that urgent care and other medical clinics will be up and running around town. (The emergency management plan can be found on YouTube.) “Unlike flooding or wildfires or tornadoes that strike without warning, this is unique, because we’ve had years to prepare,” said Sergeant Jonathan Lamb, a Kerrville Police Department spokesperson. “This is the Super Bowl of event planning.” 

One of the takeaways from Kerrville planners’ research was that much of the chaos surrounding an eclipse occurs in the hours after it has ended—the period when tens of thousands of visitors jump in their cars and attempt to rush home. To offset this likelihood, planners organized a free festival in Louise Hays Park that will feature live music and educational speakers from NASA, which also plans to live stream the eclipse from Kerrville. As the big day approaches, Lamb said he has faith that his department’s years of planning will pay off. “I don’t think this will be a disaster, and it’s an amazing opportunity to share Kerrville with guests from around the state and around the world,” Lamb said. “And once Tuesday arrives, things will begin to return to normal.”