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Memorial Day Weekend gearing up to be one of region’s biggest travel days

May 22, 2024, 5:54 AM

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Long lines form at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport's TSA security lines (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimates 43.8 million people will travel 50 miles or more during the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend – approaching 2005’s record of 44 million travelers. In Washington, the estimate is a bit over one million residents plan to travel on the road during the holiday weekend. Nationwide, car travel is expected to be close to pre-pandemic levels.

More than 85% of all travel will involve a car. Another 8% is expected to be through the air, according to the AAA. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is anticipating a busy holiday weekend period and asked travelers to prepare in advance. The numbers of passengers are expected to be at pre-pandemic levels with up to 170,000 travelers moving through the terminal this Friday, the busiest day. Security lines will be long. To save time, they suggest using Spot Saver to help move more quickly through security.

More on Spot Saver: SeaTac Airport unveils program to help cut TSA security lines

On the road, gas prices in Washington are close to where they were last year at this time, down approximately six cents a gallon from a month ago, but higher in surrounding states. The average price of a gallon of regular gas across the nation is around $3.60, about five cents higher than a year ago. In the western U.S. though, the price of gas remains higher than the national average. Washington is currently at about $4.60 per gallon. California sits at $5.19 per gallon, Oregon is at $4.37, Idaho sits around $3.81 and British Columbia is at about $5.10 per gallon (converted from liters to gallons based on the average price in the province reported via GasBuddy and from Canadian dollars to U.S. dollars).

Here are some holiday travel tips heading into the weekend.

Weather

Memorial Day Weekend has the stigma that it always rains. So far this century, there have been 10 years with no rain at all including last year, and seven more years where it rained but just one day during the three-day weekend. This year looks to have a good chance at another single wet day through the holiday weekend.

In Western Washington, the weekend will have a mix of clouds and sun. The only real threat of any light showers is on Saturday with highs around 60. The rest of the holiday weekend looks to have an increasing amount of sunshine with highs by Monday climbing to near 70 degrees. Lows throughout the weekend will be in the 40s.

Weather east of the Cascades will also offer a threat of showers and even a chance of a thunderstorm Saturday with highs ranging from 55 to 65. Sunday and Monday are expected to dry out and warm up with highs by Monday rising into the mid-60s to mid-70s. Lows will generally be in the 40s.

If heading into the Cascades or Olympics for the weekend, expect the best chance for showers to be on Saturday with conditions drying out Sunday and Monday. The snow level on Saturday is anticipated to be around 4,000 feet.

On the road

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) strongly suggests traveling during non-peak times during the holiday weekend.

If you are planning to head north toward the Canadian border, drive east of the Cascades, head south toward Portland, or take a ferry going west, Friday from about midday through about sunset is the busiest and slowest drive time period. WSDOT suggests hitting the road before 10 a.m. on getaway Friday. On Saturday in all directions, another peak in traffic volumes is late morning through mid-afternoon.

More on Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: Why was Sea-Tac Airport so busy Sunday? Will it get worse?

Returning from the holiday weekend will also be a chore. The peak times start late in the morning on Monday, Memorial Day and continue through to about sundown. Again, WSDOT suggests leaving Sunday, early Monday morning or wait until later Monday night, or even on Tuesday.

For the details of expected peak travel times heading north, south or east, as well as the return from your destination, WSDOT has a Memorial Day Weekend Travel Times page online.

The Washington State Ferries simply said to expect long terminal wait times on Friday heading west, and again on both Sunday and Monday for sailings going east.

Wherever you go this holiday weekend, drive safely and pack your patience. Your nerves will feel better by leaving way early or way late to avoid those peak travel periods. And on Memorial Day itself, remember and honor those who paid the ultimate price for our country and freedom.

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

You can read more of Micki Gamez’s stories here. Follow Micki on X, or email her here.

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Memorial Day Weekend gearing up to be one of region’s biggest travel days