Neighbors Weather

‘Even Better In The Dark’: Erie Is Ready For Solar Eclipse Close-Up

The city in the northwest corner of the state finds itself in the path of totality of a solar eclipse.

By Bobby Cherry | Pennsylvania Capital-Star

The Erie skyline.
Credit: PJPJ23

The city in the northwest corner of the state finds itself in the path of totality of a solar eclipse.

Tony DiPasqua hopes the thousands of visitors expected to descend upon Erie for the April 8 total solar eclipse think the city is even better in the dark.

“Erie is already great, and it’s even better with the eclipse happening,” said the Erie native who runs Lake Erie Variety, a shop that specializes in merchandise for the region. “This eclipse isn’t just about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see something incredible, it’s an opportunity to bring families back to celebrate Erie and celebrate our community.”

As a swathe of the nation from Texas to Maine prepares for the rare celestial spectacle, Erie is bracing for an unexpected economic boon as some 200,000 people are expected to flock there to witness the event.

With Erie in the coveted path of totality, eclipse onlookers there will witness nearly four minutes of total darkness in the afternoon as the moon passes between the sun and Earth. That is why officials anticipate possibly more than doubling the city’s population of roughly 95,000 people. (The county’s population is roughly 268,000.) 

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Many visitors are expected to begin making their way to Erie on Friday.

That’s good news for Erie businesses, where the third largest industry in the Rust Belt city is tourism, which annually generates more than $1.2 billion in visitor spending and more than 15,000 jobs, according to VisitErie, the region’s tourism promotion bureau.

Erie area hotels began filling up last April for the upcoming weekend. As of late March, less than 80 of the county’s 4,500 rooms remained available, according to Chris Temple, the communications director for VisitErie.

Rooms that did remain were going for two or three times what a typical April weekend would cost.

“This has the potential to be the largest tourism event Erie’s ever seen in recent memory,” Temple said.

VisitErie anticipates the economic impact of the eclipse to be anywhere from $13 million to $50 million. The organization estimates that, on average, each visitor would spend $200 to $500 on lodging, food, beverage, transportation and retail. The group expects the impact to include indirect spending by local businesses and workers who stand to benefit from the increase in activity.

Small businesses, such as DiPasqua’s Lake Erie Variety store, stand to benefit as visitors are likely to want keepsake items. DiPasqua has been using his “even better in the dark” theme on shirts, hoodies, stickers, tumblers and even a charcuterie board.

His shop began selling eclipse-themed merchandise Aug. 14 — a nod to the region’s 814 area code — and said sales have been, pardon the pun, out of this world.

“We saw the opportunity months in advance because we knew how significant this opportunity would be — not just for members of our community but for visitors who are coming to Erie,” he said.

DiPasqua plans to sell any remaining merchandise at an Erie public park, where one of more than 50 eclipse viewing parties around the region is planned. He said an uptick in sales now leads right into the summer months, which are peak tourist season in Erie thanks in part to Presque Isle, where more than 4 million annual visitors help to make the peninsula and its lakeshore beaches the most-visited state park in Pennsylvania.

In warmer times, beachgoers at Presque Isle State Park in Erie.
Credit: PA Internet News Service

But those visitors tend to be repeat tourists, coming back annually. The eclipse is expected to bring throngs of first-time visitors to Erie — something VisitErie hopes to capitalize on through post-eclipse marketing efforts, Temple said.

“We really want to use this opportunity to put our best foot forward,” Temple said. “We want these visitors to have a great time and come back again — for the beaches in the summer or fall foliage in Lake Erie Wine Country. We want to leave a good, long-lasting impression.

What about the weather and traffic?

While Erie is known for sometimes brutal winters thanks to its position along its namesake lake, springtime in Erie is a crapshoot.

“It makes us very anxious because it’s all at the whim of Mother Nature,” said Temple, with VisitErie. “The likelihood of clear skies in April is a little less than we would like.”

Historical data compiled by the National Weather Service shows the average high temperature for April 8 at Erie International Airport, where weather data is recorded, is 54 degrees. The average low temperature is 35 degrees.

The data shows that it’s rained nearly half of the time since 1926.

Freddie Zeigler, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Cleveland, which services Erie County, stressed that the sky doesn’t have to be crystal clear to see the eclipse.

“If you can still see the sun, you can still see the eclipse. It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfectly clear,” Zeigler said. “If it’s a cloudy day, it’s going to be extremely dark at the time of the total eclipse.”

As the weekend nears, VisitErie leaders expect people to begin shoring up their plans and determining if Erie will become their viewing location. “I’m praying that our weather is a good day and that Mother Nature smiles on us,” Temple said.

Ed Orzehowski, the assistant district traffic engineer for PennDOT District 1, said officials will work to mitigate traffic congestion and flow across.

Areas of traffic concern include Peninsula Drive in Millcreek Township, which is the only road into and out of Presque Isle, and the Bayfront Parkway in Erie, which sits along Presque Isle Bay and offers miles of scenic shoreline, hotels and other amenities.

“Our main concern is keeping people safe,” Orzehowski said.

PennDOT officials encourage people to use to access traffic information for their trip.

After the April 8 total solar eclipse, the next total solar eclipse that can be seen from the contiguous United States will occur on Aug. 23, 2044. The last total solar eclipse visible from within the United States was on Aug. 21, 2017. The path of totality stretched from Oregon to South Carolina. The last total solar eclipse that passed up the East Coast was March 7, 1970.

And the next time Erie is in the path of totality again won’t be until 2144.

But people such as DiPasqua hope visitors return more frequently.

“I hope people see the community for what it is,” he said. “This isn’t just an opportunity to see an eclipse, this is an opportunity for Erie to put ourselves on the map and recruit tourists to come back at the best time of year. I’m hopeful people will come in and see the community for what we offer and their interest be piqued and say, ‘Wow, I want to come back to see a sunset on Presque Isle.’ I just hope people explore the community and are open to our region and ultimately come back again.”

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