Winter weather in mountains a possible crimp on weekend travel

A city snowplow in Mankato, Minn., creates an ephemeral moment of unexpected visual perfection as it clears the streets on April 11, following a storm that dumped 6 inches of snow on the city.

A city snowplow in Mankato, Minn., creates an ephemeral moment of unexpected visual perfection as it clears the streets on April 11, following a storm that dumped 6 inches of snow on the city.

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Winter weather could complicate travel in the Northwest toward the end of this Thanksgiving weekend.

About 7 million people in the Pacific Coast states are expected to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving, according to the auto club AAA Washington.

That’s down almost 3 percent from last year’s post-recession high, AAA spokeswoman Jennifer Cook said, even though gas prices have fallen since last year and other travel costs such as flights and hotel prices held steady.

About 90 percent of Thanksgiving travelers will drive, Cook said, and take advantage of the 20 cents-per-gallon drop in gas prices since last year.

Most people plan to travel Wednesday and Sunday, Cook said, but winter weather could force people to change their plans.

This year, they might have to, with mountain snow in the weekend forecast.

“For that Sunday trip across the Cascades, snow is likely,” said National Weather Service forecaster Rob Brooks. “If you cut it a little short and go over the pass on Saturday afternoon, there might be better conditions.”

Brooks expects that cold, dry conditions and stagnant air will stick around the region until the weekend, with a slight chance of snow in the mountains. But on Sunday, Snoqualamie Pass could get about 5 inches of snow.

The state Department of Transportation is keeping an eye on Sunday’s storm forecast as well, said spokeswoman Alice Fiman.

The DOT predicts congestion on Snoqualamie Pass in both directions Sunday afternoon, and Fiman said that inclement weather could exacerbate delays.

From 1-4 p.m. Sunday, it’s estimated that westbound lanes will see more than 2,000 vehicles an hour, about 50 percent higher than an average December Sunday. Eastbound traffic will be about double typical volumes as well that afternoon.

“Our crews will be out 24-7, but we do ask people to do their part and be prepared,” Fiman said. “In winter conditions, you need to take your time, slow down, and leave a lot of space.”

Information on road conditions can be found on the DOT’s website or using its mobile app. Preparing for winter travel includes checking the health of your car’s batteries and the condition of the tires as well carrying chains and an emergency kit with blankets, flashlights, snacks and water.

At Les Schwab Tires in Yakima, business was brisk Monday with people rushing to get ready for winter driving.

“It’s always busy in November,” Les Schwab employee Jimmy Samdal said. “And as a storm approaches, we get even more people coming in.”

When the weather cooperates, most people travel to visit family for Thanksgiving, the AAA’s Cook said, but some Washington residents use their long weekend to hit up the region’s tourist destinations, including the Oregon coast, Portland or Leavenworth.

Yakima Valley’s wineries are also planning holiday weekend events — local wineries will offer food and wine pairing events starting Friday.

Barbara Glover, the executive director of Wine Yakima Valley, said that wine tasting is a popular activity for locals hosting out-of-town guests for the holiday.

“For Thanksgiving in Wine Country, what we see is family groups,” said Glover. “People are still coming from the west side, but they travel to the area for the holiday and then come to the event over the weekend.”

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