Raleigh, N.C. — Christmas Eve travelers found light traffic on the roads and few delays in the skies despite a winter storm making its way across the country.
About 3 to 4 percent more North Carolinians are expected to travel than did last year, when 3 million – more than a third of state's population – hit the roads or the skies, according to AAA Carolinas.
Weather a factor for return home
A bout of wintry weather is forecast for the Carolinas this weekend. Flurries and light snow could fly throughout Christmas Day, followed by heavier snow overnight and into Sunday.
Travelers should plan on reaching their destination by Saturday afternoon, then make plans to stay put for a few days, if needed, state emergency authorities urged.
"Travel should be pretty good tonight and through the day Saturday," WRAL meteorologist Mike Moss said Friday morning, "even if we do see some flurries and patches of light snow on Christmas that may mix with a little light rain in spots."
State Department of Transportation and local crews have been laying brine, which is an anti-icing mixture of salt and water, on roads to ease holiday travel. DOT officials said that without rain to wash it away, the brine will last up to 72 hours.
"Now we're just kind of sitting back, waiting, watching the forecast," said Joseph Turner, with the DOT. "We'll have everybody ready when it comes. Our crews will be ready to move the snow when it starts happening."
In Cary, Scott Hecht, the public works director, said the variable forecast kept his crews busy. "It's a challenge as we are trying to figure out what to bring in here tomorrow night," he said.
He recommended parking in a garage or driveway so that if snow plows hit the streets, they can get through easily.
Air travel moving smoothly
For those taking to the skies Friday, the getaway was easy. Andrew Sawyer, a spokesman for Raleigh-Durham International Airport, said departures and arrivals were moving smoothly throughout the day, and there were no complaints or security issues reported.
Sawyer advised those expecting to park at the airport to use Park and Ride Lot 4, as other lots were reaching capacity.
Travelers in Charlotte called their experience a pleasant surprise. Flights were moving smoothly there, but parking lots were almost full by mid-day.
Drivers balk at rising gas prices
North Carolina is fielding a rising number of complaints about gas pumps, and state inspectors are out to make sure motorists get what they pay for as they they hit the roads for the holidays.
The number of revelers on the road is something of a surprise, given the spike in gas prices since last December. AAA Fuel Gauge reported Friday that the average price per gallon in North Carolina was nearly $2.98, with Asheville already at $3.025. That's up nearly 43 cents from 2009.
The Standards Division of the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services expects gas prices to average $3 a gallon by the weekend.
At the same time, complaints to the agency – which usually drop at Christmas time – have been rising.
A common problem with pumps that fail inspection is leaking. That means consumers get less gas than they pay for.
Jerry Butler, who oversees the division, said inspectors have tested more than 81,000 gas pumps in North Carolina this year and found problems with around 9,000. The state has more than 120,000 pumps and 24 inspectors.