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Pa.'s total eclipse is going to cost you

... but cloud cover may be a bigger problem.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

April 21, 2023
Inside this edition: Traveling while Black, TikTok marriage, missing winter, collecting failures, town crying, and Erie's big sunblock party.
🏆  TEST TIME: You know the drill: If you're confident you've been following the news closely, there's only one way to prove it. Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.

In this week's installment: "Snow-starved" winter, a mail ballot blunder, and clashes over opioid settlement cash.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Which Pennsylvania town is tied for the longest U.S. town name without spaces or hyphens? Hint: It's in Lebanon County.

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth doing: Shippensburg University will use virtual reality headsets to immerse viewers in travel restrictions faced by Black Americans. Learn more and sign up here. Find a non-VR preview of the show by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams here.

» One reality show worth making: A Pittsburgh vanlifer answered a stranger's TikTok callout for a spouse and expected to be divorced within a week. Two years later they're living the vanlife together.

» One winter worth studying: WaPo (paywall) has graphics showing just how "snow-starved" Pennsylvania was last winter. Philadelphia saw 0.3 inches of snow, compared to the average of 23.1 inches.

» Several failures worth collecting: The Museum of Failure in Brooklyn has Olestra potato chips and Coke II. Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh has its own hall of failures in a materials testing lab.

» One town worth crying: Hear ye, hear ye: Easton is (still) hiring a town crier, per LehighValleyNews.com's Molly Bilinski. The position is voluntary, unpaid, and costumed. There are big shoes to fill.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Policing vs. treatment for Pa.'s opioid settlement windfall

» 'Betrayed' by Pennsylvania's guardianship system

» Why Pa. courts aren't getting a budget hearing, again

» Join a free panel on Pa.'s 2023 legislative agenda

» Full guide to the candidates for Pennsylvania's Supreme Court

» Guide to the candidates for Commonwealth, Superior Courts

» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.’s 2023 primary election

» A basic guide to vetting the local candidates on your ballot

» What you need to know to vote by mail in the primary

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election coverage now.
The outer edge of the sun is visible behind the moon during a solar eclipse.
Going dark. (Takeshi Kuboki / Flickr)

Next year, an army of people will descend on Erie, Pennsylvania, to don mail-ordered glasses and watch the moon photobomb the sun. 

The solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 will be visible all over the state, but Erie’s view will be exceptional — unless it’s cloudy. More on that in a moment.

Erie and Pennsylvania’s northwest corner are in the path of totality, a narrow band stretching from Texas to New England where the moon will 100% cover the sun, resulting in what past observers have described as a surreal, primeval, even hair-raising experience.   

Streetlights will snap on midday. Some birds will flock. Some dogs will howl.

The farther you stray from the 124 mile-wide path of totality, the less the sun will be covered by the moon, and, the same observers say, the less profound the overall effect. As Smithsonian Magazine put it: The difference between partial and total is literally night and day.

In Pittsburgh, sun coverage will be around 97%. In State College, it’ll be 95%. For Philly, it’ll be 90%.

What makes Erie’s view so unique, and why local officials are preparing for a deluge of out-of-towners, is not only the extent of the eclipse there but the duration.

Erie’s blackout will last nearly four minutes, among the longest of any place on the path of totality.

Christine Temple with VisitErie said Erie County could see anywhere from 65,000 to 250,000 visitors — the high end of that range would double the county’s population overnight — and an economic impact on the order of $15 million.

If 2017’s eclipse is any indication, price gouging will happen. In fact, it’s already started.

Rooms at the "no frills" Hampton Inn in Meadville were recently listed at $900-a-night on Hotels.com. (It appears they're no longer listed, but here's a screenshot.) Rooms at the normally very budget-friendly La Quinta Inn are going for more than $500-a-night with fees in Erie.

Note: I called the Hampton Inn and was offered a room for the weekend of the eclipse — there are only a handful left — for less than $200, so maybe skip the travel sites. An employee at the La Quinta Inn pointed to an ongoing renovation in explaining their elevated price point, though nightly rates were lower in the runup to the eclipse and immediately after.

Prices are only set to rise as the event gets closer. Same for the glasses (buyer beware). 

The path of totality. (Michael Zeiler / GreatAmericanEclipse.com)

Hotels and lodges with a one-year reservation limit only started accepting eclipse holds last week. Steve Freysz, owner of the Spencer House Bed & Breakfast, a few blocks from Presque Isle Bay, told The Inquirer that one hopeful customer has been on a waiting list for seven years: “He calls every year to make sure he’s [still] on the list.”

Temple said officials are gauging hotel capacity. If there isn’t enough, their public messaging will stress Erie’s drivability from other population centers.

They’re also determining where in town they want eclipse-goers to be. To my dismay, Presque Isle, my first choice for beachside eclipse viewing, is not on the official list of suggested public places to watch the show in Erie, though the justification seemed reasonable.

“There’s only one road in and out. Traffic headaches could be astronomical,” Temple explained. “The sun is high enough in April that pretty much anywhere here will have good visibility.”

Erie won’t be on the path of totality again until the year 2144.

“This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” state Sen. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) said by phone. “I don’t think our grandkids are going to see [the one in 2144], well, maybe our grandkids but certainly not us, right, Colin?”

I glanced knowingly at a shelf full of expensive herbal supplements stocked across the room.

Laughlin, chair of the state Senate Majority Policy Committee, said he might host a committee hearing around April 8 in Erie to give his colleagues a front-row seat: “I have to host hearings throughout the state anyway. Why not do it on a day like that?”

Laughlin is characteristically bullish on Erie’s charm — “Maybe some of the [eclipse] visitors will say ‘I forgot how nice it is here’ or ‘We’ll move here during our retirement’ or ‘let’s raise our family here’” — but if anything is giving him pause, it’s the April sky itself.

“Listen, it’s a genuine concern,” Laughlin said of cloud cover. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Let’s start with the bad news.

This map says that of all the places in the 2024 path of totality, Erie has among the highest chances of clouds spoiling the view. Space.com reached a similar conclusion using local climatological data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It gave Erie a 39.2% chance of clear skies, among the lowest chances of any area in the path.

Now the good news.

Keith Jaszka, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Cleveland, which covers Erie, said a ridge of high pressure and a breeze from a cool Lake Erie would all but guarantee ideal viewing conditions, the latter keeping obstructive cumulus clouds from forming. 

But there are several active storm tracks in April — the Alberta Clipper, the Colorado Low, and the Gulf/Hatteras Low — that could complicate things.

Of course, it’s way too early to speak with certainty. Jaszka said check back in about 50 weeks.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"When the bird had finally arrived … we were all just stunned [by] the beauty of the bird when the warden uncovered her.”

—A statement from Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Boro on the oil-covered raptor with a rare mutation that showed up at its door

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
The squonk, Pennsylvania's depressed mythical creature/cryptid, courtesy of Ukrainian sculptor Ivan GrodzenskySend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A small creature with large eyes, four legs, and wrinkled skin. and
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

At 17 letters, Kleinfeltersville, Lebanon County is tied with Mooselookmeguntic, Maine, for the longest one-word, unhyphenated, census-designated place name in the entire country, Insider's data team reported in 2019

The outlet used statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the nation's most lengthy location names.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

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