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Spencer Gilchrist plans to drive south today from his West Toledo home for a Florida vacation during Christmas and New Year’s Day, while Lara Martinez and her family will start a similar trip by driving up to Detroit Metro Airport.
The Martinezes’ flight dictates an early start for them, and Mr. Gilchrist seemed aware that getting out in the morning will be to his benefit, too.
“Maybe I should take a life raft,” Mr. Gilchrist said, referring to today’s forecast for heavy rain in northwest Ohio, especially south of Findlay, while he picked up traveler’s checks Friday at AAA Northwest Ohio in Sylvania Township. “But at least it gets rid of all the snow.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Holiday travel plans going local
Ms. Martinez was at the auto club to buy discounted tickets for Orlando-area theme parks, a side trip her family makes only occasionally when visiting her parents in Naples, Fla.
“We’re going to go right to the Magic Kingdom and make the best of the three days, four days we have” before continuing on to Naples, she said.
They’re among the 94.5 million Americans the auto club expects to travel more than 50 miles from home between today and New Year’s, an increase of about 0.6 percent above last year’s year-end travel volume, based on a travel survey.
Even worse than the heavy rain that southbound travelers will encounter, motorists headed north or far to the west should expect a full menu of nasty winter conditions.
The National Weather Service on Friday posted a winter storm watch for several parts of central Michigan, advising of ice-storm potential in an area spanning the Irish Hills’ northern edge to Port Huron and for significant snowfall in the northern Lower Peninsula.
“There is still some uncertainty in the exact temperature profile in the lowest levels of the atmosphere,” the agency’s office in White Lake, Mich., advised in its winter storm watch.
The agency said the potential exists for quarter-inch to half-inch ice accumulations from Ann Arbor to Pontiac, Mich.
Warnings were more dire for northern Illinois and Iowa, where a tenth of an inch of ice today is expected to be followed by 4 to 8 inches of snow.
Freezing rain and sleet were forecast for central Illinois.
That same storm is expected to deliver an inch or two of rain in northwest Ohio and adjoining Michigan counties. That will fall on ground that’s saturated by snow melt and rain.
Moderate to major flooding is possible along area rivers, the weather service’s Cleveland office said.
It posted a flood watch for northern Ohio through Sunday afternoon.
The heaviest rain is likely south of a stretch from Findlay to Mansfield, the agency said.
The rough weather was expected to move out of the region late Sunday, and the forecasts offered little chance for any snow early next week that might deliver a white Christmas to the Toledo area.
“I was really disappointed” by the melting of 8 inches of snow that fell around Toledo last weekend and early this week, said Claudia Meeks.
The Old West End resident was staying in town this Christmas to be with her 97-year-old mother, who is in hospice care.
“I have traveled in the past to the Grand Rapids [Mich.] area, but this is a stay-at-home year,” she said.
AAA said its travel estimate means nearly 30 percent of all Americans will make a holiday trip, with about nine-tenths of those travelers going in private vehicles.
Air travel is expected to decline slightly, to about 5.53 million travelers from last year’s 5.61 million.
Jolene Morgenstern, a marketing specialist at AAA Northwest Ohio, said business has been busier this year than last, not just for Christmas travel but also cruise bookings and spring break trips for 2014.
Toledo’s recent cold weather “has got people thinking about warm weather,” Ms. Morgenstern said.
People looking to book a Christmas or New Year’s trip last-minute, she warned, “are not going to find the deals they would have had” with earlier purchases.
Those who waited until getaway day to fuel up their cars also won’t get as good a deal at the gasoline pump as they would have a few days ago.
Locally, prices down in the $2.70s a gallon for regular gas could be found Thursday evening but were gone by Friday evening, according to gasbuddy.com Web site spotters.
Many filling stations boosted their regular-grade price up to $3.299 per gallon Thursday to cash in on holiday demand, but isolated prices below $3 per gallon were still around.
The auto club said average gas prices were slightly higher than the $3.18 national average, but “most drivers will pay less than [they did] a year ago to fill up during the holiday season.”
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.