'Tis the season for holiday travel and AAA says there will be an increase in the number of motorists on the roads compared to last year. But unless those travelers are heading north or into the mountains, the National Weather Service predicts no significant delays due to weather, even though some snow could fall.
Matthew Kramer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, predicted a possible inch or two of snow into Friday night in Washington and Greene counties, but expected almost no precipitation today through Christmas Eve. A new storm moves in next week, meaning a potential white Christmas.
“We might see some snow on Tuesday,” Kramer said. “Then there’s a new storm set moving in, maybe some snow midweek, late Wednesday.”
AAA predicts 93.3 million Americans will travel more than 50 miles during this holiday season, a 1.6 percent increase from last year and the second-highest number of holiday travelers in the past decade.
Bevi Powell, vice president of community relations for AAA East Central, believed part of the increase in travelers to be a result of a rebounding economy, but said many people travel during the holidays regardless of external factors.
“We’ve seen the number of travelers trending upward since the economic issues of 2008 improved,” Powell said. “People tend to take trips at the holidays regardless. It’s an 11-day period to visit family and friends or take a vacation.”
In the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, AAA expects a 1.3 percent increase in overall travelers, including a 1.5 percent increase in travelers using automobiles and a 4.8 percent increase in travelers at the airport.
Lower gas prices may also factor into the increase in travelers during the holiday season. According to data from AAA, the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Western Pennsylvania dropped from $3.64 in November to the current average of $3.52 per gallon.
Gas prices in Washington remain slightly above the Western Pennsylvania average at $3.57 per gallon. Nationally, the price of a gallon of gas dropped to about $3.25 per gallon, but remains a record high for this time of year. Powell said while gas prices continue to fall everywhere, some areas experience lower prices at the pump sooner and more drastically.
A representative of Coen-Zappi Oil and Gas Co. of Washington attributed falling gas prices to an abundance of supply produced for the winter season, noting prices tend not to fluctuate around the holiday season, especially due to travel. A relatively mild winter has kept supply high and driven demand down, ultimately forcing lower prices.
Pennsylvania Turnpike officials predict more than 4.1 million drivers will travel the Turnpike this weekend. The Turnpike’s maintenance department is working to keep roadways clear, adding extra maintencance workers for a quicker response in the event of an accident or snowstorm.
North of Pittsburgh and in ski country, the National Weather Service expects lake-effect snow. A winter storm warning remained in effect in the area above Interstate 80 and in the Laurel Highlands.
As snow flurries fell Friday, lines started to form at hardware and tire stores. Tracy Wheeler, an employee at Coen Tire on West Chestnut Street in Washington said the business consistently sees an increase in customers when snow starts to fall. On Friday afternoon, customers waited up to 2 1/2 hours for a new set of tires.
“It happens every year as soon as they call for snow,” Wheeler said.
Customers also flocked to hardware stores to stock up on supplies for the winter. Jim Findley, general manager of Miller’s Ace Hardware in McMurray, said more customers when the weather turns snowy isn’t uncommon.
“We sell a lot of snow shovels, salt, windshield fluid,” Findley said. “Anything snow or winter-related, we sell a lot of.”
At West Washington Hardware in Washington, however, owner Tom Rogers sat in a relatively quiet store.
“They don’t really come to me first, being a small business,” Rogers said. “People still have a lot of stuff from last year.”