Across the Carolinas, residents paused Monday to watch the skies for the first total solar eclipse to span the United States in 99 years.
Despite predictions of traffic jams, the roads weren’t as hectic as some had warned. Traffic, however, was at a crawl in some areas of the North Carolina mountains.
That’s not to say there weren’t some surprises. For starters, parking areas in prime sighting spots in the Carolinas filled up early and had to be closed, including rest stops on South Carolina interstates.
The same was true in the North Carolina mountains, where Gorges State Park in Transylvania County closed its gates shortly before 8 a.m. because its parking lot – with space for 1,500 to 2,000 cars – was full.
South Carolina recreational areas in the path of the eclipse also saw a midday rush. Pawleys Island police reported all beach access sites were full, and traffic to the island was congested, officials said.
In Columbia, crowds whooped and hollered when the sky went dark, as confused crickets and cicadas began chirping and street lights flickered on.
Clouds blocked the celestial event for some Columbia observers. But many got to watch the sun disappear behind the moon for two minutes and 30 seconds.
“How can you say it was more than awesome?” said Dennis Baker, a Tampa resident who flew his private plane into Columbia for the eclipse. “Ultra, extremely awesome.”
Charlotte resident Chris Warakois, who traveled to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia for the eclipse, described the experience as “once in a lifetime.”
The Siamang gibbons primates on Ape Island were mostly inactive during the hot August day, only to begin calling and swinging from trees as darkness fell.
“The tiger over here started roaring, the monkeys started howling, the birds were going nuts. Some people were going nuts,” Warakois said.
Among the oddest warnings of the day: The Shore Beach Service in South Carolina advised people to stay out of the surf between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.
The reason? The low visibility would increase marine animal activity. Sharks are known to feed at dusk, and the eclipse provided them with an extra feeding period.
Some religious leaders also issued cautionary warnings.
The Rev. Billy Graham’s daughter, evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, suggested the eclipse might be a sign of God’s judgment.
“Jewish rabbis have historically viewed solar eclipses as warnings from God to Gentile nations,” she wrote in a blog. “Therefore, my perspective on the upcoming phenomenon is not celebratory. While no one can know for sure if judgment is coming on America, it does seem that God is signaling us about something. Time will tell what that something is.”
Her brother, evangelist Franklin Graham, tweeted that he wasn’t sure what the eclipse might mean but suggested praying.
“Throughout history some have associated a solar eclipse with a warning of God’s pending judgment. I don’t know if the solar eclipse is a sign of God's judgment, but may it be a reminder to all of us to pray.”
Steve Lyttle and The (Columbia, S.C.) State contributed.