TRAVERSE CITY — More than 500,000 visitors on Cherry Festival's opening weekend caused traffic jams that spilled beyond roads, beaches and the beer tent.
They gummed up the airwaves, too.
Anyone who tried to make a cellphone call Saturday afternoon probably had trouble connecting, said Gregg Bird, Grand Traverse County's emergency management coordinator.
"You could make calls, but you might have to dial three or four times to get out," Bird said.
Cellphone capacity in the Grand Traverse region that's designed to handle a regular population of permanent residents and seasonal visitors buckled under the pressure. The shear volume of traffic on regional cellphone towers overwhelmed the infrastructure and triggered a logjam, Bird said.
"We suspect, actually we know, that that's what happened with the major carriers on Saturday," he said. "Data was fine, it was incoming and outgoing cellular phone calls (that were problematic)."
Bird received reports from users of all of the major wireless carriers that said it was difficult, if not impossible to connect a call. U.S. Coast Guard personnel at work on Grand Traverse Bay during the Cherry Festival air show resorted to radio communication after efforts to make calls failed, Bird said.
It's not uncommon during major events for cellphone towers to become overwhelmed, especially during disasters or crises when there is a sudden surge in usage, Bird said.
Some carriers handled the volume better than others. Sprint installed more capacity on their towers before this year's event per Bird's request, he said.
"It seems to me that Verizon had the worst logjams," Bird added.
Trevor Thomas, a spokesman for Verizon, had no information about any voice service interruptions on his company’s network during the weekend. He did, however say Verizon installed a portable cell site in Traverse City to help handle the increased data demand during the festival.