A winter storm is expected to hit the Central Valley today, causing havoc for holiday travelers.
While the temperature is forecast to be a moderate 54 degrees, rainfall could be as much as a half to three quarters of an inch by the end of the day. Winds are expected to reach up to about 30 to 35 miles per hour in the Valley.
For those traveling into the mountains for the holiday weekend, waiting until Saturday may be the best bet. Snow totals are projected at 12 to 20 inches at pass levels. This along with gusty winds is still sufficient to cause significant travel difficulties, with the peak snowfall expected in the afternoon for the Sierra. A Winter Storm Warning has been issued for the southern Cascades and northern Sierra into Saturday morning.
The storm comes as AAA is forecasting more than 103 million Americans will travel over the year-end holidays — the most on record. This represents a 1.5 percent increase, or 1.5 million more people traveling, compared with last year despite one fewer travel day this holiday season. The year-end holiday travel period is defined as Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, 2017.
The increase in holiday travel this year is being driven by additional consumer spending, a result of improvements in the labor market and rising wages, according to AAA. Additionally, low gas prices and increased consumer optimism will prompt more Americans than ever to set out on road trips, take to the skies, or board trains, buses and cruise ships to celebrate the holidays.
“’Tis the season for holiday travel, and this year more Americans will travel to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year than ever before,” said AAA President and CEO Marshall Doney. “Rising incomes and continued low gas prices should make for a joyous holiday travel season.”
The vast majority of travelers—93.6 million people—will take a holiday road trip, an increase of 1.5 percent over last year. Air travel is expected to increase by 2.5 percent, with more than 6 million Americans flying to their holiday destinations. Travel by other modes of transportation, including cruises, trains and buses, will decrease slightly, to 3.5 million travelers.
For motorists who may encounter winter weather conditions during their holiday road trips, AAA recommends checking windshield wipers and inspecting tires to ensure safe drivability before setting out. Pack an emergency kit containing a snow shovel, flashlight, ice scraper, jumper cables, warning devices and extra warm clothing for everyone riding in the vehicle. When driving, slow down and do not tailgate. Leave following distances to a minimum of five to six seconds to allow additional braking room should a sudden stop become necessary.
Thankfully for local travelers, the storm is expected to be short-lived in the Central Valley, as the chances for rain fall to 40 percent and wind gusts down to 11 mph in Turlock by Saturday.
Christmas Day is forecast to be sunny and bright, however, a bit cold with the high near 50 degrees. The sunshine is expected to last through the beginning of next week.