By Brian Lada
Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey dinners, spending time with family and friends, watching football games and the start of the holiday season.
However, before the first piece of turkey can be served, millions of Americans head to the airport or hit the roads during what is known as the busiest time of the entire year to travel across the United States.
More than 55 million people are expected to travel for Thanksgiving this year across the United States, according to AAA, up 2.3% since last year and the third-highest since the company began tracking holiday travel in 2000.
While AAA expects the vast majority of people to travel on the roads to reach their destinations, air travel leading up to Thanksgiving could reach its highest level since 2005.
Whether taking to the sky or hitting the highway, Mother Nature could complicate travel for millions of Americans in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.
People planning to travel on Saturday and Sunday could avoid the worst of the crowds, and the worst of the weather, leading up to the holiday.
“Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving are the busiest air travel days ahead of the holiday and the most expensive,” said AAA.
The upcoming weekend may kick off with some rain and breezy conditions in the Northeast as well as part of California, but the rest of the country should have weather favorable to early holiday travelers.
AccuWeather Meteorologist Brandon Buckingham said that by Sunday, dry conditions are expected to return to California and the East Coast, with rain-free weather also in the forecast across the Great Lakes, Southeast and most of the Plains.
The only fly in the ointment is across the Northwest where a quick-moving system could dish out some rain and mountain snow during the second half of the weekend. This could slow travel around Seattle and Portland, as well as motorists who plan on driving through mountain passes in the Cascades.
As Thanksgiving week gets underway, a large storm could gather over the central and eastern U.S., which may cause a ripple effect of travel disruptions leading up to the holiday.
“A storm will develop along a slow-moving cold front and will produce moderate to heavy rain from the Ohio and Tennessee valleys to the East Coast Tuesday,” said AccuWeather Long-Range Expert Paul Pastelok.
The storm will advance eastward into Wednesday, creating an uptick in weather-related delays across more than a dozen states.
Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston and Detroit are just a handful of the travel hubs that could face disruptive weather ahead of Thursday. Flight delays and cancellations at these hubs could have a ripple effect across the country, potentially impacting flights to and from cities where there are calmer weather conditions.
Meanwhile, a helping of wintry weather could cause slippery travel on highways in the Central states.
“The week starts wet in the Plains with a change to snow in the Upper Midwest for early travel concerns. Snow showers will linger in the northern Plains and Midwest through the holiday,” said Pastelok.
The chance of rain and snow may also slow travel on the roads and at airports across the northern Rockies and into parts of the Northwest.
However, there is some good news for folks heading home following Thanksgiving Day gatherings. The volatile weather pattern leading up to the holiday will subside, paving the way for more favorable travel conditions on Black Friday and throughout the weekend.
Pastelok said that there could be some rain or snow showers across the Great Lakes and Northeast, as well as across the Northwest and northern Rockies, but most of the U.S. should have drier weather.
Travelers may also want to double-check AccuWeather’s long-range temperature forecast before packing for holiday travel as milder weather in the central and eastern U.S. on the week before Thanksgiving will be replaced by a seasonable chill following the holiday.
Produced in association with AccuWeather