Last week’s early round of snow and ice may have drivers nervous about venturing out this Thanksgiving.
But officials said there is no reason to fear if you are prepared and proceed with caution.
Travelers will have plenty of company. AAA said it expects a 4 percent increase in Americans going 50 miles or more from home during the four-day holiday period.
The prediction, which is derived from scientific polling, shows that 42.5 million Americans will hit the roads, rails or skies. That is up from 40.9 million a year ago.
Thanksgiving travel reached a peak in 2007, when 50.6 million people left home. A year later, in the wake of an economic recession, the number dropped to 37.8 million.
This year’s jump in travel arrives despite a 63-cent increase – to $3.74 – over last year in the average price of a gallon of gasoline in Washington. Idaho prices average 23 cents lower, AAA said.
National Weather Service forecasters said the wintry conditions in the Inland Northwest should ease up.
Computer forecasts show the cold northwesterly flow will change to a more typical fall pattern with rain and snow with highs in the low 40s and lows in the upper 20s to mid-30s.
Incoming precipitation is more likely to fall as rain rather than snow in lower elevations, although mountain travel can be a toss-up this time of year.
“We just encourage people to add extra time to their winter driving,” said Al Gilson, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation in Spokane. “Ice and snow: Take it slow.”
Authorities also say motorists should equip their vehicles with all-season or winter tires and make sure the rest of the vehicle is in working order. Adequate anti-freeze and windshield washer liquid are musts.
Extra on-board equipment is needed: tire chains, an ice scraper, a snow brush, a flashlight, a charged cellphone, water, food, extra clothing or blankets, traction sand, a shovel and safety flares or reflectors. Some drivers carry tow straps, too.
The idea is to be prepared for the possibility of an accident that might disable the vehicle’s engine – no engine means no heat.
Once the vehicle is ready, drivers should remind themselves how to navigate snow and ice safely.
State troopers recommend slower acceleration, gentle turns, longer following distances and earlier and easier braking.
Other winter driving tips:
• As freezing temperatures arrive, especially overnight, look out for black ice.
• If you end up behind a snow plow, slow down and stay behind it until it is safe to pass.
• Travel during daylight hours, when there is less chance of ice or fog, visibility is at its best, and more people are around to help if you need it.
Construction zones have mostly been shut down for the season. Winter drivers won’t have to contend with those.
However, work to complete a six-lane segment of Interstate 90 between Sullivan and Barker roads continues to have a 50 mph speed limit and two lanes in each direction. Opening of the full six-lane width is expected near the end of the month.
In other transportation news:
• The interchange connecting U.S. Highway 2 with the developing North Spokane Corridor opened to traffic Wednesday.
A flyover ramp that connects southbound U.S. 2 to the north-south freeway takes drivers up and over four lanes of U.S. 2 as well as the main line of the freeway before dropping them back down onto the new corridor.
Completion of the through lanes from Farwell Road to U.S. Highway 395 at Wandermere is expected next spring, said Keith Metcalf, regional administrator for WSDOT.
• Emphasis patrols to catch impaired drivers will begin Thursday and continue through Jan. 2 in Spokane and Pend Oreille counties, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission announced last week.
• The new Appleway Bridge in Spokane County near Stateline opened to traffic Thursday, following 18 months of construction at a cost of $8 million, less than half the original estimate, officials said.
The 42-foot-wide bridge has architectural features to replicate elements of the former 1939 span, officials said.
Federal funds were used. The contractor was Harcon Inc. of Spokane.