Lots of truckers, along with other holiday travelers, will be heading home this weekend to spend Christmas with their friends and families. Some of them will also be delivering loads of last-minute gift orders. Highways will be busy, full of extra volume as more people than usual will be sharing the roads.
AAA forecasts that more than one-third of Americans will travel this holiday season, a record-breaking 112.5 million people. More Americans than ever, 102.1 million, will travel by car. This is the most since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2001, and 4.4 percent more than this time last year.
To make matters worse, the weather will be uncooperative in some parts of the country. Drivers should expect windy and slick conditions to slow them down in the portions of the Mountain Prairie, Northeast, Northwest, and Southeast regions, getting them home later than they want if they can’t leave early and find alternate routes.
A batch of snow will fall across the eastern half of North Dakota this evening, probably fading overnight before reaching Grand Forks and Fargo. It could start as rain in some areas. So, besides the snow making roads slick, slush will turn to ice in some spots along and north of I-94 and west of I-29.
Light to moderate rain and snow will also develop in southern Idaho and the Salt Lake City area, spreading through southwestern Wyoming and Colorado (west of Denver). Watch out for lots of slick areas on I-70, I-80, I-84, and all routes in between. Blowing snow will limit visibility through the central Yampa River Basin, Elkhead and Park Mountains, upper Yampa River Basin, Gore and Elk Mountains, and the Flat Tops area.
Several inches of snow could pile up from parts of the southern Appalachians to interior portions of the Northeast. Wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph could create white-out conditions in the highest elevations of the Smoky Mountains in northeastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The wind will also make driving very risky for truckers who are planning to deadhead through these areas to go home for the holiday weekend. For drivers carrying full loads of last minute Christmas orders, conditions will be dicey at best. For truckers who choose to take the chance, be extra careful cutting through the Smokies on I-40, as well as US-64, US-129, and US-441.
Saturday and Saturday Night
Snow will continue to fall across interior portions of the Northeast and New England, likely fading shortly after dark. Watch out for patches of black ice due to refreezing of slush.
The snow in Colorado will move into western and central Kansas later in the day, with rain or a snow-rain mix in some areas. The system will probably fizzle out overnight as it approaches Missouri. Accumulations might not amount to much, but it could be just enough for black ice to form as temperatures fall way below freezing overnight. This could cause problems on I-70, but, as is often the case, secondary roads may be most at risk.
Another storm will crank up in the northwestern U.S. on Saturday night, spreading lowland rain and mountain snow from Oregon and Washington eastward through Idaho and western Montana.
Snow will keep falling across parts of the northwestern U.S. previously mentioned, with potential for 12 to 24 inches in the Cascades of Washington state. Meanwhile, parts of the “chimney” of northern Idaho could receive up to 12 inches. Blowing snow will reduce visibility in some areas, and winds could make driving a challenge at times.
The snow should become more scattered later in the day as it fades, but drivers will still have a tough time getting through the usual trouble spots, namely over the following mountain passes: Big Hole, Chief Joseph, Homestake, Lehmi, Lolo, Lookout, Lost Trail, Marias, McDonald, and Rogers.
Another round of snow and rain could move into the northeastern U.S. Sunday night.
The entire staff at FreightWaves is wishing a safe and very merry Christmas to everyone, including all the hard-working truck drivers across the country. Be careful out there!