More people are expected to leave town in Washington this Thanksgiving holiday, despite weather problems in parts of the state.
A total of 1.04 million Washingtonians are expected to travel more than 50 miles over the holiday, said Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association. That’s up from 1.01 million last year.
Of those traveling, just over 900,000 are planning to drive, while another 110,000 will fly, she said.
Drivers headed to Western Washington should exercise caution.
Another 3 to 5 inches of rain are forecast through Thursday night in the Olympics and Cascades. A flood watch remains in effect through Friday for rivers on the west side of the Cascades and the south Puget Sound region. The National Weather Service does not expect major flooding.
Forecasters say drier, cooler air will move into Washington on Friday. The falling freezing level will bring snow to highway mountain passes and possible winter driving conditions for motorists returning home from the holiday weekend.
Drivers should carry a winter driving kit — including tire chains, a flashlight and warm clothes — especially if they are traveling over mountain passes, Cook said.
“An overall quick winter maintenance inspection is always a good idea before you head off,” she said.
Travelers who are driving will pay less for gas this year, according to AAA. Tri-City gas prices are averaging just over $3.02 for a gallon of regular unleaded, compared to $3.20 this time a year ago. That is tied for fourth-lowest of the nine metro areas measured in the state. The statewide average is $3.09 a gallon.
Gas prices aren’t a major factor in the increase in travelers, Cook said. Most people drive regardless of the price of gas, and cut costs elsewhere in their trip.
“A lot of it has to do with improved consumer confidence,” she said. “People are spending more money. Gas prices are kind of the icing on the cake.”
Rain and snow rolled into the Northeast on Wednesday as millions of Americans made the big Thanksgiving getaway, grounding hundreds of flights and turning highways sloppy along the congested Washington-to-Boston corridor, according to the Associated Press.
By early afternoon, more than 550 flights had been canceled, the bulk of them in the Northeast. Thousands of flight delays on what is easily one of the busiest travel days of the year were also expected as the snow spread.
Those weather problems were not impacting flights out of Tri-Cities Airport Wednesday afternoon.
“I can’t tell you what it will be in a couple of hours, but right now everything is good to go,” said Buck Taft, deputy airport director.
Airlines had canceled more than 10 percent of their flights at Philadelphia, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports.
Major airlines waived their re-booking fees for people flying in and out of the Northeast, allowing passengers to try to catch an earlier flight. But most planes were already filled.
The wintry weather was not confined to the Northeast. An Alberta clipper left many highways in North and South Dakota slick, and a winter storm warning was issued for parts of Minnesota.
Nicer weather can be found closer to home — at least on Thanksgiving Day. The National Weather Service calls for a high of 59 degrees with partly sunny skies in Pasco on Thursday, dropping to 54 degrees with a chance of rain on Friday.
Temperatures are expected to get much colder over the weekend, with a high of 37 degrees, with a chance of snow, on Saturday and a high of 29 degrees Sunday.
A high of 34 degrees with a 40 percent chance of snow is predicted for Saturday’s Apple Cup football game in Pullman between Washington and Washington State, according to the National Weather Service.