Weather predictions have holiday travelers dashing through fog

Holiday travelers may not want to sing Let it Snow in the next few weeks if they plan to leave home for the holidays.

The number of people traveling for Christmas and New Year's is expected to be the second highest in the past decade, according to AAA.

About 30 percent of the U.S. population, or 91.9 million Americans, are expected to travel 50 or more miles between Friday and Jan. 2. That's up 1.4 percent from last year.

In the Tri-Cities, it doesn't appear that snow will be an issue through Friday. Patchy freezing fog is expected to clear up after Tuesday, with sunny days Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature may range from lows of 28 to a high of 37, depending on the day.

While gas prices remain higher than last year, they have dropped in the past month.

In the Tri-Cities, a gallon of regular gas averaged $3.48 this week, 28 cents less than a month ago, but still 30 cents more than the same time last year, according to AAA.

Washington's average is $3.52 per gallon. That's down 23 cents in the past month, but 36 cents higher than a year ago.

Nationally, the average price of gasoline is $3.26 per gallon, down 16 cents in the past month and 28 cents higher than a year ago, according to AAA.

Drivers should remember that if chains are required on the mountain passes, that means chains, and not studded tires, except for all-wheel drives, said Alice Fiman, state Department of Transportation communications specialist.

"Studded tires do not take the place of chains," she said.

Travelers should check the pass conditions online at www.wsdot.wa.gov before leaving home, she said. Passengers are encouraged to look up the conditions using a smartphone or other mobile device as they get closer to the pass.

Those flying might delight in knowing that air travel is expected to decrease by almost 10 percent, to about 5.4 million travelers, according to AAA.

AAA attributed this to an 21 percent increase in airfares. An average low round-trip is $210 for the top 40 U.S. air routes, the highest year-end holiday average airfare in the past five years.

At the Tri-Cities Airport, though, director Ron Foraker reported an increase in people boarding planes, but the Christmas travel crowd tends to be noticeable the week before Christmas.

During Thanksgiving, the Pasco airport was almost full, he said. Only 52 of the 1,100 car parking spaces were vacant in its long-term parking lot. But it is difficult to gauge what Christmas will look like, he said.

So far, the airport has seen boardings increase by 6 percent through November compared to the same time last year, Foraker said.

Air travelers are encouraged to look at travel tips posted on the Port of Pasco's website at www.port ofpasco.org/flight-information.

Travel Leaders, a travel agency with offices in the Mid-Columbia, offered tips to help get through airport security quickly. They include wearing comfortable and easily removable shoes, remembering that liquids and gels in carry-on bags are limited to 3-ounce containers in a clear one-quart zip-top bag, tucking all possible items into a carry-on, using a Transportation Security Administration-approved laptop bag and being cooperative.

This time of year, most travelers to the Tri-Cities are staying with friends and family, said Kris Watkins, Tri-Cities Visitor & Convention Bureau President and CEO.

However, the Best of the West wrestling tournament at Pasco High School on Thursday and Friday will bring about 1,000 people and help to book several hotels, Watkins said.

Some Tri-Citians are headed to Hawaii and all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and the Caribbean, said Julie Harrington, chief operating officer for Travel Leaders.

Cancun has been an especially popular destination, she said.

Those traveling after Jan. 5 have been booking trips to Europe and Asia, she said. Prices to Asia are particularly good right now.

With the possibility of weather delays and lost luggage, possibly containing holiday gifts, Harrington suggests investing in travel insurance.