Holiday travel numbers expected to hit a record high; snow possible in low-lying areas of Eastern Washington

December 21, 2018

This year could break records for the number of holiday travelers, and the possibility of snow could make traffic worse.

In a report issued earlier this month, the national travel trade group AAA estimated a 4.4 percent increase in holiday-season driving and flying compared to last year.

In the Inland Northwest, AAA expects to rescue 17,000 of its members between Dec. 22 and Jan. 21, said Kathleen Vickers, spokeswoman for AAA Washington.

“So much of what we see is weather-related or simple automotive problems,” she said.

About 40 percent of the local rescues are tows, 29 percent are for battery problems and 13 percent are for lockouts, she said.

But simple car maintenance like checking tire tread, fluid levels and battery life can tell what needs to be fixed before traveling.

Vickers said travelers should expect congested highways until after Christmas. Travel times in Seattle could be up to four times longer than usual, according to INRIX, a global mobility analytics company.

Weather is also going to be a factor in the holiday travel season.

The chances for snow on Christmas are at about 20 percent, said Mark Turner, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Spokane.

Leading up to Christmas, temperatures will be mostly above freezing but could dip below that.

“We’re in a pretty wet and wild pattern right now with a Pacific storm marching across the area,” Turner said. “Sometime between now and Christmas, snow levels are expected to reach the valley floor.”

Turner warned drivers to expect lots of snow accumulation in the mountain passes.

“The mountains are getting pounded with snow,” he said, and the temperatures will stay mostly below freezing.

Washington State’s gas prices sit at about $3.16, but Spokane County’s are at about $2.80, according to AAA figures on Thursday.

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