Holiday travelers can expect clear roads, more drivers and lower gas prices

Cars travel over Vail Pass during a lingering winter storm in the Colorado mountains in this 2005 photo near Vail, Colo. More than 91.9 million Americans plan to travel throughout the 11 days that encompass the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, according to AAA. That’s a 1.4 percent increase from last year.

Lower gas prices and clear skies should make it easier for folks to hit the road this holiday season.

More than 91.9 million Americans plan to travel around the 11 days that encompass the Christmas and New Year’s holiday, according to AAA. That’s a 1.4-percent increase from last year.

While more people are traveling by car, that’s seen a 2.1-percent increase, those choosing to fly has decreased by 9.7 percent from last year. The drop is attributed to a jump in air plane tickets, which has increased by about 21 percent from last year.

“There is no question consumers remain challenged,” said Jim Hanni, AAA executive vice president for public and government affairs.

The shift from plane to car is especially true in the Midwest, Hanni said.

“Our area is one that tends to travel much more by car as opposed to air,” he said.

Gas prices have dropped by about 10 cents since Thanksgiving. In Lawrence, the average price at the start of the week was $3.07 a gallon. In Topeka, it’s $3.03. Current prices are still 20 cents higher than what they were this time a year ago.

In the long term, Hanni said economic reports show the demand for gasoline is declining while inventories are substantial.

Even with lower gas prices, 4 out of 10 people AAA surveyed said they were cutting back on their holiday travel plans.

Hanni said AAA has noticed a trend of those with the lowest income becoming less likely to travel.

Last year, those with a $50,000 household income made up 40 percent of travelers, this year, it’s 37 percent.

“It’s a sign of the economy,” Hanni said.

Meanwhile, snow could still fall before Christmas, said Matt Anderson, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

A weather system is expected to dive down from the northern plains on Thursday night and into Friday.

“You could see a chance for a brief shot of light snow,” Anderson said.

Anderson doesn’t expect snow accumulation to be more than an inch or two, so it shouldn’t have any major bearing on travel plans. For Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas, the forecast calls for clear and sunny skies with highs in the upper 30s and low 40s.