Officials at AAA Carolinas say more than 4 million residents of the Carolinas will travel 50 or more miles over the longest holiday period of the year – a 15-day stretch surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day that began Friday and continues through Jan. 4.
It can be a dangerous time to drive, due to inclement weather and human-related factors such as fatigue and the use of alcohol by some who get behind the wheel.
“Motorists should be patient,” says David Parsons, president and CEO of AAA Carolinas.
He could echo the same message for those who are flying. This week’s blizzard made a mess of some flight schedules, and more bad weather is expected next week.
If you’re among those 4-million-plus who are traveling – and even if your travels will be around town – here are six things you should know this holiday season:
Bad weather is likely
Forget about this week’s big storm. More is coming.
A second, rather weak, system could bring a few inches of snow Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to a corridor from central Pennsylvania into New England. A mix of snow and sleet is possible just to the south of the snow, .
But a bigger headache is expected Dec. 26-27, when a low pressure system that could rival this week’s storm sweeps across the Rockies, Midwest and then the East.
That system could bring severe storms to the Deep South, heavy snow in the north, and downpours in between. It’s unclear where the snow-rain line will set up.
So if you’re traveling in places like Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia or New York next week, pay attention to the forecast.
Here in the Southeast, that post-Christmas storm could bring frozen precipitation to mountain areas. Once again, stay tuned.
And if all that isn’t enough, there are hints of another big storm sometime around New Year’s Day.
Chilly in Florida
If you think a Florida trip will help you escape the cold for the next few days, forget about it. Temperatures will drop into the 30s overnight this weekend in northern and central Florida, and elsewhere in the Deep South. By Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, conditions will moderate, and it’ll feel more like Florida.
Gas is cheaper
You’ll pay less to fuel your car, SUV, minivan or truck. For the most part, a gallon of regular gas is selling for 7 cents less than at Thanksgiving, and a few cents less than last Christmas.
Here are some sample prices from major cities in the East: Charlotte ($3.20); Raleigh ($3.21); Columbia ($3.01); Myrtle Beach ($2.98); Atlanta ($3.15); Savannah, Ga. ($3.25); Jacksonville, Fla. ($3.23); Orlando, Fla. ($3.17); Birmingham, Ala. ($3.10); Memphis, Tenn. ($2.98); Nashville, Tenn. ($3.03); Louisville, Ky. ($3.17); Chicago ($3.39); Indianapolis ($3.08); Cleveland ($3.19); Cincinnati ($3.06); Pittsburgh ($3.48); Philadelphia ($3.47); Long Island, N.Y. ($3.77); Baltimore ($3.23); Richmond, Va. ($3.09); and Roanoke, Va. ($3.01).
Don’t drink and drive
This admonition goes beyond the moral issues of putting yourself, your loved ones, and others at risk.
There’s a more practical reason. Several states, including the Carolinas, are in the midst of holiday-season DWI crackdowns.
You can expect nighttime DWI checkpoints in Charlotte this week and next, and a score of other cities are doing the same.
For example, law enforcement officials in eastern Tennessee sent out a news release Friday afternoon, saying they were planning a number of stepped-up DWI patrols and checkpoints
Plan ahead for airport parking
Airline industry officials like to talk about Christmas being a time for “amateurs.”
By that, they mean many of those flying are families and others who don’t fly often. If you’re part of that group, avoid some of the potential problems. Get to the airport early, and check on parking.
As of Friday afternoon, three of the four long-term parking lots at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport were full.
Check the airport’s parking website for availability, at http://bit.ly/uqBunC.
Expect crowds at airport
AAA Carolinas expects a 4 percent increase among people flying in and out of Charlotte this year, because the economy has improved a bit. If the airport is crowded when you check in, head for Security Checkpoint E. It’s bigger, and lines seem to move faster. You can get to any concourse from that checkpoint.
The most-congested days at the airport will be today and Sunday, then again Jan. 2-4 when many people return. Next weekend could be busy, too. The quietest days are Dec. 24, Dec. 25, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.