According to the AAA, around 100 million people nationwide are expected to travel during the last week of this month including Christmas and New Year’s celebrations, despite ongoing pandemic concerns. Like Thanksgiving, the majority will travel by car with the remainder flying or taking Amtrak. Here is what you need to know before you go.

Weather

A colder air mass huddling in Western Canada has already started to filter into the North Sound. The recipe for lowland snow is not only a cold air mass, but also moisture. A developing weather system expected to track into the Pacific Northwest from the Gulf of Alaska by Christmas Eve may lure enough colder Canadian air to mix with the system’s moisture and drop snow levels close to sea level. Showers mainly of snow will likely linger into the weekend including Christmas Day. Be sure to monitor the everettpost.com weather page for your site-specific local North Sound forecast as the holiday weekend approaches.

The Cascades and Eastern Washington will see snow on Christmas Eve and the holiday weekend.

With the potential for snow in the forecast for the North Sound, the Cascades and Eastern Washington, plan on the possibility of winter weather driving conditions. Ensure to carry chains, have a full gas tank, and plenty of extra supplies in case of any delays or potential road closures.

Driving

According to Washington State Dept. of Transportation end of the year holiday travel charts compiled over years of traffic data, the heaviest travel days eastbound on U.S. 2 Stevens Pass will actually be on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Thursday and Christmas Eve will also have traffic volume peaks each morning, but nowhere close to what is anticipated early next week.

Snoqualmie Pass I-90 reflects the same trends through Thursday into early next. Return westbound traffic volumes also peak early next week on both mountain highway passes.

If you are heading south toward Portland, with the exception of Christmas Day, each day from Thursday through Tuesday of next week have peak traffic volumes from late morning through late each afternoon. Northbound return traffic echoes the southbound traffic patterns.

There are no travel charts heading north toward Bellingham, but expect similar higher traffic volumes to those heading toward Portland during the holiday weekend. If you wish to avoid delays and frustration in traffic, plan to travel before or after these peak times.

If you plan to use the ferry system, keep in mind that Washington State Ferries continues to have a staffing shortage, and they have had to make some scheduling adjustments. Visit their website for the latest ferry run schedules and plan ahead.

Gas Prices

Gas prices have started to ease lower. Prices are about 5 cents per gallon lower than they were during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The average of gas prices across Washington is about $3.87 per gallon.

Air Travel

Sea-Tac Airport is going to be a busy place through the end of the year. The airport is anticipating about one million passengers moving through the airport until just after New Year’s Day, close to pre-pandemic levels. Authorities ask passengers to arrive 2 hours ahead of their flight times and preferably 3 hours in advance.

Snohomish County’s Paine Field is a different story. The Paine Field passenger terminal will be busier than normal, but have far less congestion than that at Sea-Tac. Alaska Airlines has 13 daily departures from Paine Field including a new route to Tucson, Arizona.

Amtrak

Amtrak rail service to and from the North Sound also will be busy but with enough capacity. Amtrak says they are already in the midst of a busy period with many holiday travelers through New Year’s Day.

Protect Yourself During The Holidays

Covid-19 variants are still spreading, particularly among the unvaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer these guidelines for holiday travel and gatherings.

  • Get a Covid-19 vaccine
  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth
  • Stay 6 feet apart from others that do not live with you
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces – outdoors is safer
  • Test to help prevent spread to others
  • Wash your hands often
  • Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Follow local and federal mask wearing requirements
  • If you are sick or have symptoms, isolate from others and avoid gatherings

Wherever you travel during the holidays, plan ahead and travel safely. And be sure to keep an eye on the weather – when you are weather aware, you are weather prepared.

North Sound Meteorologist Ted Buehner worked more than 40 years for the National Weather Service (NWS) from 1977 to 2018. He is now an Everett Post Media team member. Together with Everett Post Weather Minute Podcasts, he provides morning and afternoon commute traffic and weather updates on both KRKO and KXA Radio, and sports reporting on KRKO.