A White Christmas in Western Washington? Keep dreaming

Dec 22, 2023, 9:58 AM | Updated: 2:20 pm

Seattle clouds weather...

Overcast skies in Seattle. (Photo: Bill Kaczaraba, MyNorthwest)

(Photo: Bill Kaczaraba, MyNorthwest)

The Christmas holiday weekend has arrived with many heading out of town either on the roads or in the air to be with family and friends.

For those hitting the road heading anywhere in Western Washington including the coast, Portland, Oregon, or the northern part of the state toward Bellingham, Friday offers rain tapering off in the afternoon with highs easing back into the 40s as a cold front moves inland.

But in the mountains, the cooler air will bring snow levels down to around 3,000 feet later in the afternoon Friday and 2,000 feet in the evening. As much as 10 inches of new snow is expected in the passes. That certainly is good news for skiers and snowboarders, but it’s not great news for motorists. Be prepared for winter weather driving conditions after noon Friday.

Higher pressure is expected to build onshore Saturday and Sunday for drier conditions and the sun to reappear. High temperatures will hold in the 40s and overnight lows are expected to drop into the 30s with the possibility of local icy roads and freezing fog in the usual cooler outlying areas.

By late Sunday, Christmas Eve, rain may return to the lowlands of Western Washington. Santa Claus and his reindeer will likely be ready for wet weather as they visit homes throughout the region.

For those hoping for a White Christmas, we’re sorry to report it won’t be happening this year. Christmas Day looks to have some rain with the rain picking up in intensity by Tuesday as an atmospheric river spreads warmer rain into the region.

Mountain snow levels are expected to rise to around 5,000 feet Tuesday, not good news for skiers and snowboarders, but improved road conditions for motorists. Highs will nudge up closer to 50 degrees, a bit warmer than average for late December.

More from Ted Buehner: A wonderful adventure holiday travel guide

Air travel: Airports, airlines seek better 2023

The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports nationwide that about 7.5 million passengers will fly through the weekend of New Year’s Day. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac) expects Friday to be the busiest day at the air terminal with about 174,000 travelers, up about 10% from last year. If Thursday’s crowded conditions were any indication, plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours — if not three — hours ahead of scheduled flights.

Travel over Christmas and New Year’s tends to spread out over many days, so the peaks in the U.S. are likely to be lower than they were during the Thanksgiving holiday. That is making airlines and federal officials optimistic.

But the debacle at Southwest Airlines over Christmas last year should guard against overconfidence. Just this week, the Transportation Department announced a settlement in which Southwest will pay $140 million for that meltdown, which stranded more than 2 million travelers.

So far this year, airlines have canceled 1.2% of U.S. flights, down nearly half from 2.1% over the same period last year. Cancellations were well below 1% during Thanksgiving, according to FlightAware.

“I don’t want to jinx us, but so far 2023 has seen the lowest cancellation rate in the last five years,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Tuesday. He added, however, that winter weather “will certainly be a challenge in the next few weeks.” Canceled flights surged last year, as airlines were caught short-staffed when travel rebounded from the pandemic more quickly than expected. Since then, U.S. airlines have hired thousands of pilots, flight attendants and other workers, and the cancellation rate has come down.

The calm after the storm: Seattle weather mellows out

Across the nation beyond the Pacific Northwest, airline flight delays due to weather today will likely involve the Southwest where rain will impact destinations in Southern California and Arizona. A weak weather system will spread rain into parts of the Great Lakes region as well.

Over the weekend, the weather systems along the west coast will move into the Rocky Mountain region Saturday for rain and higher elevation snow perhaps impacting primarily Denver air traffic.

By Christmas Eve, this system will stretch north-south across the middle of the nation with a combination of rain with snow in parts of the upper plains.

On Christmas, this system will move into the Mississippi. Ohio and Tennessee valleys as well as the Southeast with primarily rain though snow is possible in the central and eastern Great Lakes region.

By Tuesday, another busy air travel day, this weather system will impact airports mainly in the eastern Great Lakes and eastern U.S. with some delays possible due to inclement weather.

How much you’ll be spending on gas

AAA is forecasting that 115 million people will go 50 miles or more from home between Saturday and New Year’s Day. That is a 2% increase over the auto club’s forecast last year, although it would fall short of the record set in 2019.

Most of those people will drive, and they will save a bit on gas as prices continue their decline, down over 25 cents per gallon in a month and 75 to 80 cents compared to earlier this summer. It’s also at its lowest price point since late 2022.

The average statewide price of regular fuel is just shy of $4.17 per gallon, but 14 counties offer regular gas below $4 per gallon including Skagit and Whatcom Counties. The lowest gas price found in the state is only $3.19 a gallon at a station in Arlington.

In the “Seattle-Bellevue-Everett” region, AAA reports prices hovering $4.44 per gallon Friday morning.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Ted Buehner is the KIRO Newsradio meteorologist. You can read more of Ted’s stories here and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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