Storm could impact holiday travelers

local@modbee.comDecember 20, 2012 

Umbrellas were out in force Monday morning as the season's first storm delivered rainfall in the valley and snow in the hills.

PATTY GUERRA — pguerra@modbee.com

— Californians are taking to the road and the air in record numbers this holiday season, but weather conditions could make the going a bit bummpy.

AAA Northern California predicted this week that 11.7 million Golden State residents will travel 50 miles or more during the end-of-year holiday season – a nearly 2 percent increase over 2011 and the highest number ever.

“For the fourth consecutive year, California has seen a slow to steady increase in travel volume,” said AAA spokeswoman Cynthia Harris. AAA estimates that more than 10 million Californians will drive to their destinations. Nearly 1 million will be heading to the airport.

Nationally, AAA projects that more than 93 million people will travel 50 miles or more during the holidays, up 1.6 percent from last year.

Folks driving to their destinations will find they don’t have to make a major investment in the gas tank. Gas prices have continued to drop this week, with regular unleaded going for as little as $2.99 at Arco stations in Turlock, according to ModestoGasPrices.com.

But those traveling both close to home and further away could find themselves battling the elements. Locally, today’s frosty start will be followed by a rainstorm that will move in late tonight and stay for the weekend, the National Weather Service predicts.

Rain is likely to start in the Northern San Joaquin Valley after 10 p.m., forecasters say. On Friday, the storm system could drop as much as a half-inch on the area. It’s expected to continue through the weekend, clearing up by Monday night before potentially returning on Wednesday.

Nationally, a storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains is heading east. The National Weather Service says the central United States is experiencing blizzard conditions, severe thunderstorms and damaging winds.

The snow is a gift for ski resorts in Colorado, Utah and Arizona right before the busy holiday week. The moisture is also a relief after an extended wildfire season in Colorado.

“We are behind but this stuff is certainly helping,” Kyle Fredin, a National Weather Service forecaster in Colorado, said.

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