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Winter weather could impact record-breaking holiday travel

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SALT LAKE CITY — The rush to visit relatives and loved ones this holiday season is expected to yield a record-breaking number of travelers in the Mountain West, according to AAA Utah.

The latest travel survey indicates more than 7.6 million Mountain West residents will take a trip out of town — a 1 percent increase from last year, said AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough.

“Rising incomes and a desire to gather with family and friends should make this the most traveled holiday season ever recorded,” she said.

Weather could be a factor for some Utah travelers trying to make their holiday getaway. KSL meteorologist Dan Guthrie said Friday should be the best day to travel. The weather will be windy, warmer and dry with highs in the lower 40s.

“If you are traveling, this will be the best day to do so,” Guthrie said. “Our holiday weekend storms will begin Friday night into Saturday morning. With snow levels starting just below 6,000 feet, expect rain or a rain snow mix in the valleys to start the day.”

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for northern Utah and southwest Wyoming from Friday evening through late Sunday night.

Snow levels should make it to the valley floors by the evening with several inches of accumulation possible overnight into Christmas morning, Guthrie said. Higher accumulations are likely on the benches and 1 to 3 feet of snow is possible in the mountains.

By Christmas morning, snow showers should become light and scattered with flurries by late morning and into the afternoon as high temperatures fall back into the 30s for Sunday and the start of the following week, he said.

This year, Pennsylvania transplant Brittany Copeland, 33, and her husband Kareem, 37, will be spending Christmas with his family in Michigan. And though she will miss seeing her family this time around, she revels in the fact that all the plans during the 10-day Midwest visit fall to her spouse, while she will enjoy a mostly worry-free vacation.

“I’m not in charge of anything,” she said. “He is responsible for where we’re going, getting us there, who we’re with, all of that.”

One of the few things that will require some attention is getting all the gifts to Michigan in time for Christmas.

“We all are gift people,” Copeland said. “We all get really excited about exchanging gifts with each other.”

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The couple is scheduled to fly out of Salt Lake City early Friday, but despite some of the logistical issues surrounding the trip, it is still a treasured time to spend with family, she said.

“Christmas is not the same if you’re not around family,” Copeland explained. “Christmas is about family and being together with people. Christmas is the best!”

AAA estimates that approximately 6.8 million Mountain West residents will choose to drive to their holiday destinations during Christmas and New Year’s — a 1 percent increase over last year. The air travel industry is forecast to have a 3 percent increase in traveler volume over last year as more than 540,000 residents are expected to fly.

More than 270,000 Utah residents are projected to travel by other modes of transportation, such as trains or boats — which is a slight decrease compared to last year, according to AAA.

Nationally, more than 103 million people are predicted to travel at least 50 miles during the holidays — an increase of 1.5 percent over last year and the most on record, Fairclough said. AAA attributed the rise in holiday travel to increased consumer spending resulting from improvements in the labor market and rising wages.

At Salt Lake City International Airport, the Transportation Security Administration expects to screen nearly 23,000 passengers per day during the holiday travel season — up about 15 percent over an average travel day. TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers advised passengers to be prepared, particularly as they navigate through security checkpoints.

“If people know what to expect, they’re going to have a much better experience going through the screening process," she said.

TSA recommends arriving at least two hours prior to departure, preparing for security by having a valid ID and boarding pass out before getting to the travel document podium, and removing large electronics such as laptops, medical devices and liquids from carry-on luggage.

Other tips include avoid overpacking, refresh your knowledge of the liquids rule noting that liquids, gels, aerosols, creams and pastes must be 3.4 ounces or less. Also if traveling with gifts, remember to leave them unwrapped.

Jasen Lee

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