Memorial Day to bring fickle weather, costly gas

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldMay 24, 2013 

If you're planning to hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, here's what you can expect weather-wise, traffic-wise and price-wise at the gas pumps.

Weather

Weather this spring hasn't just been fickle.

"I'd call it downright bipolar -- warm and sunny one day, cold and rainy the next," said Rob Brooks, forecaster with the Pendleton office of the National Weather Service.

He expects the cold low-pressure system which moved over the Northwest earlier in the week to linger through today.

"We'll have lots of popcorn-type clouds bringing showers off and on. This is one of those systems where it can be raining in one place and 20 miles away, nothing," Brooks said.

High temperatures will range in the 60s on both sides of the state early on, edging into the low 70s by Sunday and Monday. Eastern Washington likely will see some mid to high 70s.

For the latest forecast go to www.wrh.noaa.gov/pdt/ and click on "weather story" at the top of the page.

To find the optimum conditions during the day for an outdoor activity, such as hiking, scroll down the home page until you see "forecasts" on the far left. Click on "activity planner," fill in the maximum/minimum temperatures, wind speed, cloud cover and rain you're willing to put up with and a chart will appear giving the times of day meeting those criteria.

"It's great for planning any outdoor activity. I use it with my kids all the time," Brooks said.

Gas prices

One thing we can all count on this holiday weekend is higher prices at the gas pumps in Washington and Oregon.

The average price of a gallon of gas in Washington was $4 for regular unleaded and $4.10 for diesel Friday, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

That's 35 cents higher than the national average for gas and 23 cents higher than the current national average for diesel.

We get an average 12-cent break per gallon at the pumps in the Tri-Cities. Unleaded was $3.88 a gallon Friday, down 23 cents from a year ago. Diesel was $4.11 a gallon, down 31 cents.

Gas prices in Seattle and Spokane averaged $3.78 on Thursday; Portland, $3.97. Diesel averaged $4.14 in Seattle, $4.06 in Spokane and $4.01 in Portland.

"Supplies are tight on the West Coast because our refineries are in their planned maintenance mode as they switch from winter to summer blends of gas," said Cassie Devaney of the American Automobile Association's Spokane office.

Fewer people on the road

Nationally, Americans are traveling less. Air travel is down 12.9 percent and even car/RV traffic is down 0.1 percent, Devaney said.

"In the Pacific region we're down an extra 5.5 percent in both air and car travel because economic recovery is very mixed," she said.

Vacationers will travel an average of 690 miles one way during the weekend, according to a AAA survey. That includes road and air travel. Twenty percent will travel 701 to 1,500 miles from home, and 19 percent will travel 150 to 250 miles.

"About 59 percent said they plan to visit with family and friends, and Memorial Day is a perfect time for that," Devaney said.

Anyone looking for ideas for a road trip can find a list of popular destinations at www.aaa.com with itineraries, photos, maps, estimated driving times and narrative descriptions of the routes, Devaney said.

Cascade and Blue mountains

The Washington State Department of Transportation and its contractors will stop most highway construction work through Monday.

An exception is Highway 2 west of Stevens Pass, where only one lane is open in each direction while crews work to stabilize slopes. On Highway 97 south of Toppenish, a pilot car will guide traffic over the Satus Creek bridge. Drivers can expect around-the-clock delays of up to 20 minutes.

Drivers might encounter some snow in mountain passes above 4,000 feet. Campers heading for the mountains should take a warm jacket.

"The best thing I can tell anyone is to pack according to where you're traveling and be prepared for any emergency," Brooks said.

Traffic

Don't get stuck in traffic. Check the WSDOT's website at www.wsdot.wa.gov for information on key travel routes, ferry schedules, accidents and other things that could slow you down.

Or call the 511 travel information hotline. For out-of-state callers, it's 800-695-7623.

Interstate 5 is closed between College Way in Mount Vernon and George Hopper Road in Burlington because of the collapse of the bridge over the Skagit River. Traffic will be rerouted around the area.

Events that may affect traffic on the coast include Seattle Mariners games today through Tuesday; the Northwest Folklife Festival at Seattle Center today through Monday; and Ski to Sea in Whatcom County, today and Sunday.

Dam crossings

w Lower Granite Dam near Pomeroy will be open for vehicle crossings Friday through Sundays starting May 24, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The dam crossing will also be open Memorial Day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Other days the crossing closes at 5 p.m.

w Lower Monumental Dam will be closed Memorial Day to vehicle traffic.

w Little Goose Dam will be closed through July 13 to vehicles because of construction. Cars can cross the Snake River 10 miles downstream on a Highway 261 bridge.

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