What comes through Pennsylvania about every hundred years? A total solar eclipse. When’s the next one?
In six months.
On Monday, April 8, 2024, from San Antonio, Texas, to Houlton, Maine, the new moon will make its way directly in front of the sun in the U.S., leaving only the light of the sun’s corona in the sky and perpetual dusk along the entire horizon.
Resting along the great lake that shares its name, Erie is the closest major metropolitan area in the eclipse’s path of totality to Pittsburgh.
“If anybody’s planning on coming up to stay, we’re telling them plan now; don’t wait,” says Christine Temple, director of communications for VisitErie.
Erie’s official marketing organization, VisitErie has been planning for the eclipse since April 2023, when it launched a to-the-minute countdown timer for what it is calling “The Ultimate Sunblock” on its website.
The city of 94,000 is expecting around 250,000 visitors in the spring. Temple says that as of Oct. 9, 60% of lodging options in the area have been booked for the night of the eclipse, with bayfront hotels, bed and breakfasts, and campgrounds — which would usually be closed at that point in the year — already at capacity or filling up quickly.
While the expected influx of tourists is leading to out-of-season openings, it is also causing uncharacteristic closings.
“The eclipse takes place at 3:16,” Temple says, “Right when school lets out.”
During a partial solar eclipse in 2017, the city did not anticipate the crowds that created major traffic congestion. And that was with Erie only reaching about 80% coverage at peak, according to NASA diagrams.
To alleviate the expected influx, many Erie schools are opting to cancel classes or move to remote education for the day, Temple says. VisitErie is also encouraging crowds to stay away from one of the city’s major attractions: Presque Isle State Park.
“Even though it’s tempting to go to Presque Isle, it’s not recommended,” Temple says. She adds that the peninsula’s single entry and exit point makes it less than ideal amid crowds who will most likely watch the eclipse and then immediately hit the road.
VisitErie recommends its lesser-known beach parks for alternative viewing along the lake.
With swimming most likely out of the question for a northwestern Pennsylvania April, rocky beaches or cliffside parks — such as Shades Beach in Harborcreek, Freeport Beach near North East and Lake Erie Community Park near Lake City — make for just as scenic views, without bottlenecked entry points.
For eclipse viewers less worried about location, the path of totality reaches as far south as Meadville. The eclipse can be seen from any backyard, rooftop or parking lot within the path, as long as the southbound sky is clear.
In Pittsburgh, the eclipse will reach about 97% coverage. But even a minor percentage point difference will drastically modify the experience.
“What’s the difference between 99% and 100%?” Temple recalls asking a coworker. “Picture that you’ve got your kids in the car and you’re driving to Disney World. You get all the way to the front gates, and then you turn around and go home.
“That’s the difference.”