YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The solar eclipse that will pass over northeastern Ohio next April 8 will last no more than four minutes.
But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people, and businesses and officials aim to make the most of it.
With eight months to go, hotels are filling up and events are being planned.
The eclipse will be seen in totality – that means the moon will completely block the sun – within a 124-mile-wide swath that will pass through Ohio between 3:08 and 3:19 p.m., moving in a northeasterly direction.
The Mahoning Valley lies partially within that swath. The cutoff line is about halfway between Warren and Youngstown. It goes almost directly over Deerfield Circle, Mineral Ridge, the northern half of Girard, and Sharpsville, Pa.
The farther one gets from the centerline, the shorter the total eclipse. Warren and Niles will be in the zone of totality and will see an eclipse of about two minutes.
Youngstown and most of Girard will not be in it at all but will see a 99.5% eclipse, according to Pat Durrell, director of the Youngstown State University planetarium.
Liberty, Hubbard and Sharon, Pa., will also see a partial eclipse of about 99%.
How rare is a solar eclipse?
On average, one happens somewhere on Earth once every 1 1/2 years.
Only 21 total solar eclipses have crossed the lower 48 states since the founding of the nation, according to Eclipse.Ohio.gov.
The last total solar eclipse visible in Ohio was in 1806. The next will be in 2099.
The whole eclipse takes about three hours, with the period of totality – when the “ring of fire,” or corona, is visible around the blacked-out sun – lasting between three minutes and 52 seconds to less than two minutes.
During that time, the midday sky will be like twilight. It is often described as surreal or awe-inspiring, with birds going silent as they would at nightfall and streetlights flickering on.
Eclipses always attract people by the millions, who drive in from near and far.
Ohio public safety officials have it on their radar. The state Legislature has already approved $1 million for eclipse security to ensure motorists get in and out safely and the traffic flows as well as possible.
Most of Trumbull County will witness totality. In Mahoning County, though, only the northeastern corner will – the area around Craig Beach.
Hotels, apartment rentals and other lodging businesses are ready for a rush of bookings.
Ashtabula County is particularly well-located for the eclipse – especially the shoreline along Lake Erie, including Geneva on the Lake, Ashtabula, and the Grand River Valley winery region. That stretch is very close to the centerline of the path of the eclipse and will see maximum totality.
It also has the infrastructure for visitors.
The executive director of the Ashtabula County Visitors Bureau, Stephanie Siegal, says the demand for rooms began months – if not years – ago and the northern part of the county already has no vacancies.
“Our lodging properties are reporting they are booked solid,” Siegel says.
While hotel rates rise and fall according to demand – and prices can become outrageously high for big events – that didn’t happen in Ashtabula County. “Our hotels did not raise rates sky high,” Siegel says. “Many of them stayed at standard or slightly elevated rates.”
The last time a total eclipse cut through the middle of the country was 2017. There wasn’t much to see in Ohio that year but cities such as Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Joseph, Missouri, became magnets for visitors.
Now that it’s Ohio’s turn, Siegel wants visitors to have the best experience possible. She doesn’t want to see a repeat of the negative aspects of 2017 – the biggest being near-gridlocked traffic that stretched for over a hundred miles on some interstates after the eclipse.
“We are advising people to come early or leave later,” Siegel says. “Take an extra day.”
One factor beyond the control of every tourism board is the early-April weather, which can range from clear and mild to a snowstorm.
“The weather will dictate,” Siegel says. “But our merchants are being really creative. Several places are planning viewing parties. We’re encouraging our wineries to produce special vintages [for the event].”
Siegel says promotion of these events will begin the first quarter of next year.
While viewing can take place in any yard, sidewalk, field or park, many prefer to gather with others for a shared experience.
The Spire Institute, an academy for elite athletes near Geneva, will have such an event.
“They have a lot of space and, if the weather is bad, people can stay inside until the eclipse,” Siegel says.
The Ashtabula tourism board has been meeting with public safety officials to plan traffic flow. “People from around the world have contacted us and we want them to have a great experience,” Siegel says.
The Lodge at Geneva on the Lake is the premier tourism hotel on the Ashtabula County waterfront, with 109 rooms and suites and 25 cabins.
Charlene Horgan, general manager of the lodge, reports everything is booked for both April 7 and April 8.
A few recent cancellations produced vacancies, with the rate at over $300 per night. But they were quickly snapped up.
“People are taking it seriously,” Horgan says.
The hotel is planning an on-site viewing event but hasn’t completed the details.
The hotel has created a landing page on its website where information will be posted: TheLodgeAtGeneva.com/solar-eclipse.
One local tourism official experienced the 2017 eclipse firsthand.
Beth Carmichael, executive director of Trumbull County Tourism, was working at the visitor’s bureau in St. Joseph, Missouri, at the time. That city saw a massive influx of folks for the eclipse, which occurred in late August.
“We were highlighted on the CBS morning news show,” she says.
It’s unlikely Trumbull County will get the same influx of visitors as St. Joseph, Carmichael says, but she aims to take advantage of the opportunity.
“People who live within an hour are the ones most likely to come to Trumbull County,” she says.
The eclipse will be in April. So the weather might not be favorable for people to drive in from beyond a short radius. And the “diehards,” as she puts it, who intend to travel long distances will likely go to more southerly cities where the weather is more dependable.
The path of the eclipse will go through Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, upstate New York, and Maine.
In St. Joseph, Carmichael’s tourism team created a viewing area for the day. A festival had already been scheduled “and we switched it to an eclipse theme,” Carmichael says.
The Trumbull bureau is looking into adapting some of those ideas.
One location that could be ideal for a viewing event is the Trumbull County Fairgrounds. It has a massive parking area and the infrastructure to handle crowds. It also will experience about 2 1/2 minutes of totality.
So far, there has been no discussion, says Michele Smith, a member of the Trumbull County Fair board of directors. That’s because the fair just wrapped up three weeks ago. That has occupied the board’s time.
“It might be something the board will look into [at a future meeting],” Smith says, “and I will bring it up.”
As hotels near Lake Erie become fully booked, visitors will have to look further south for lodging.
That’s already starting to happen, says Alyse Bombeck, sales director for the Hampton Inn and the Residence Inn in the Eastwood Complex in Niles.
“We’ve had five bookings [by eclipse tourists] so far between both hotels,” she says.
The Grand Resort in Howland is still in the planning stages of marketing the eclipse. “It’s definitely on everyone’s radar,” says Mike Case, director of marketing at the luxury hotel and resort. “We will embrace it and do something great. I’m sure we will put together a fun package deal that will include the room night or nights and plenty of great add-ons.”
Room rates haven’t been set yet, Case says.
Mahoning County is not expected to see much of a tourism bump from the eclipse, since only a small portion of it is in the path of totality.
Linda Macala, executive director of the Mahoning County Convention and Visitors Bureau, says no plans have been made at this time.
Steve Mitchell, general manager of the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Youngstown, says he has not seen any bookings for the eclipse. “Maybe as the day draws near, we may see more demand,” he says.
While people in the city of Youngstown will see an almost-total eclipse, there is just no point in viewing it here, says the YSU Planetarium’s Durrell.
“This is one of the few times when 99.5% isn’t good enough,” Durrell says. He plans to head at least a few miles north to be in the swath of totality.
When watching an eclipse, it is critical to not look directly at the sun without wearing glasses that block most of its rays. To do otherwise is to risk eye damage.
The only time it’s safe to remove the glasses is during those few minutes of totality when the moon is directly between the earth and the sun.
People viewing it in Youngstown will not get the opportunity to remove their glasses and view the ring of fire with their bare eyes, Durrell says.
The YSU planetarium has yet to make plans for an eclipse show and might not.
“We’ve had some discussions,” Durrell says. “I know we will not be doing anything at the planetarium.”
Reconstruction of the planetarium – damaged in a fire last January – could be in progress in April, which means the structure will be closed, Durrell says.
For the 2017 partial eclipse, the YSU planetarium staff presented a viewing event at the Mill Creek
Metroparks Farm in Canfield. More than 2,000 people attended, Durrell says.
Ohio officials expect the eclipse will draw millions of tourists to the state and they have created a task force to ensure they are kept safe and have a positive experience.
The task force has created a website with information on safety, lodging, event locations, parks and public lands for viewing, speakers, and other sites of interest. Go to Eclipse.Ohio.gov.
The American Astronomical Society has posted a list of manufacturers of solar eclipse glasses that are guaranteed to not be counterfeit or defective. Go to Eclipse.aas.org.
Pictured at top: The April 8 solar eclipse will be observed in totality – the moon totally blocking the sun – within this path. The length of totality will be greatest along the broken line that runs through the center of the swath, decreasing in length the further one gets from it.