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August 31, 2010 Published in Top Stories, Traffic & Transportation

Travelers Advised To Keep Abreast Of Weather Forecast Before Heading Out

As they pack their bags for their last planned holiday weekend getaway of the summer, Washingtonians are keeping a wary eye on the eye of the hurricane and a tropical storm following in its path. Nearly 790,000 Washingtonians are planning to travel 50 miles or more from  home during the Labor Day holiday weekend, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic’s travel forecast.

However, their travel plans could be blown away by the winds of Hurricane Earl or washed away by the rains of Tropical Storm Fiona. AAA’s Labor Day holiday travel forecast is based on traveler’s intentions and historical data as of late July, notes a spokesman for the nation’s largest leisure travel organization.

“It goes without saying, before heading out travelers need to keep a careful watch on the weather forecast and on weather conditions, both here and at their destinations,” explained John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “One way or the other, the weather forecast will have a direct impact on the travel forecast.”

Will the current path of Hurricane Earl toward the Eastern Seaboard cause some would be travelers to stay home? “The impact of the hurricane on travel this weekend will depend on what the storm does in the next 48 hours,” said Townsend.  “However, with more people traveling this year than last and even more of those planning to drive, what we do know is that roadways will be busy.”  

AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Labor Day 2010 Travel Forecast
Travel Projections for the Washington SMSA At-A-Glance

Travel Projections for the Washington SMSA At-A-Glance

Tips for Travelers if Hurricane Earl and Tropical Storm Fiona Impact Eastern Seaboard

* Stay abreast of local forecasts both at your departure city and your destination.
* Check your airline flight status before leaving for the airport.
* Check with your hotel for local updates on the storm’s impact.
* Monitor weather conditions on a regular basis, as things can change quickly.
* Travel with only a carry-on bag when flying to give you greater flexibility if your schedule changes ,and so that you will have necessities with you if you are delayed.
* Pack emergency “creature comforts” with you like snacks, rain coats, and extra clothing, etc. A flashlight with extra batteries, radio and extra water are a good idea, if going to a beach house.
* Heed all evacuation advisories and/or orders.

The weather forecast notwithstanding, the robust travel forecast makes this a “Bumper-to-bumper summer” for Washingtonians and their counterparts across the nation. That’s a marked contrast to the “bummer summer” of 2009  when fewer Americans traveled during the summer months due to the down economy.

Number of Washingtonians Traveling on Holiday Weekends This Summer

Memorial Day holiday weekend – 803,400 area residents  –  a six percent increase.
Fourth of July holiday weekend –  817,000 area residents –  an 18.4 percent increase.
Labor Day holiday weekend – 788,000 area residents – an 8.9 percent increase.

“The number of local residents traveling during the three holidays of summer is increasing this year,” Townsend explained. “The Labor Day holiday weekend, which is normally the smallest of the three travel holidays, is a case-in-point. While media reports on the state of the U.S. economy are mixed, many Americans are still interested in taking one more trip as the summer travel season comes to a close. That’s what we are seeing in the Washington area, and across the nation as well.”

“Over 730,000 traveling Washingtonians will hop into their vehicles to head to their selected end of summer hot spot,” noted Townsend. “That means nearly 93 percent of those traveling from the Washington area will be hitting the roads,” Townsend commented.

In contrast, as summer ends for those in and around the District, the three major airports in our area will experience much less traffic than during Memorial Day and July 4th weekends, AAA Mid-Atlantic is projecting. Only 33,900 Washingtonians will catch a flight to their end of season getaways.

But, even this decreasing number of flyers is a 3.6 percent increase from last year’s Labor Day air travel numbers. Another 23,000 Washingtonians – a 5.7 percent increase over last Labor Day – will travel to their holiday destination by other modes of transportation including bus, rail, motorcycle and watercraft.

“Motorists hitting the road for Labor Day can expect to see the same prices at the pump as they did for the July 4th weekend – a number 10 cents lower than what they saw during this year’s Memorial Day travel,” Townsend noted.  “Gas prices are averaging $2.72 a gallon in the metro area, and $2.68 per gallon nationwide as the holiday weekend nears. Still, the cost of gas in the metro area is 6 cents higher than the $2.68 drivers paid in 2009.”

So, how are those traveling planning to spend their money? Well, more than half of area travelers plan to use their hard-earned cash for dining – unlike in years past when most people spent a good majority of their money on shopping. Other planned activities include:

Go to beach/waterfront. 32%.
Touring/sightseeing. 30%.
Visit museums, art exhibits, etc. 21%.
Night life. 21%.
Attend festivals, craft fairs, etc. 20%.
Visit historic sites. 18%.
Boat/sail. 18%.
Visit national or state parks. 13%.
Hike, bike, etc. 7%.

Nationwide, approximately 34.3 million travelers are expected to take a trip of 50 miles or more away from home. That’s an increase of 8.8 percent from the 31.2 million who traveled last year during a time of economic strife across the country.

Trips by automobile are expected to increase in popularity with 91 percent of travelers, or 31.4 million people, reaching their destination by driving. This is an increase of 10.3 percent from last Labor Day when 28.5 million travelers went by motor vehicle  Leisure air travel is expected to account for just five percent of overall travel with 1.62 million holiday flyers. This is an increase of 4.6 percent from one year ago when 1.54 million flew. As a footnote, the numbers have remained significantly lower since 2008 when 45 million Americans traveled during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

“With the amount of people taking to the highways, it’s important to stay up on the rules of the road,” Townsend advised. “Also, be sure to plan ahead by mapping out your route and making sure your vehicle is prepared to handle the distance. And, most of all, enjoy summer’s last hurrah before having to return to the daily grind.”

The 2010 Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as Thursday, September 2 to Monday, September 6. AAA’s projections are based on research conducted by IHS Global Insight. The Boston-based economic research and consulting firm teamed with AAA earlier this year as part of an agreement to jointly analyze travel trends during the major holidays.  AAA has been reporting on holiday travel trends for more than two decades.

For purposes of this forecast the Labor Day holiday travel period is defined as trips that include travel of 50 miles or more from home in one direction during the period from Thursday, Sept. 3 to Monday Sept. 7. The complete AAA / IHS Global Insight 2009 Labor Day holiday forecast can be found at AAA.com/news.