Anyone traveling for the holidays knows they need to gird themselves against flight cancelations, long lines and bad traffic, but this year is promising to be uniquely headache-inducing.
Two million more Americans—102 million of us—will take a road trip over the holiday season over 2021, thanks to falling gas prices and more people able to work on the go, according to AAA. And airports are also going to be busy: 7.2 million Americans are expected to fly, a 14 percent increase over last year. This after a summer of delayed flights due to a shortage of air traffic controllers in some of the busiest airports in the country. A shortage of flight crews has also affected flights, and even a shortage of workers to build critical airplane parts has made traveling more difficult.
And sure, you don’t have to wear a mask on planes anymore, but you probably should. COVID-19 is still very much a thing (despite what President Biden says) and hospitals are overflowing with influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (known as RSV) cases, CNN reports. With all these illnesses floating around, expect airlines to be even shorter staffed than usual.
Unfortunately for travelers, there’s yet another hurdle to cross in the race to Grandma’s house: A deep freeze and major winter storm is moving in over much of the country. Temperatures will drop to bitterly cold conditions, including into states not used to the deep cold, like Texas and Florida. According to the New York Times:
“For some folks, it could be one of the coldest Christmases in a while,” said Zackary Taylor, a senior meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center.
“The cold air spilling southward is certainly some of the coldest air we’ve seen so far this winter and there is the potential there for some record low temperatures,” he said, adding that temperatures across much of the eastern two-thirds of the country were expected to drop as much as 30 degrees below normal for this time of year.
Every state in the country, if you count the summits in Hawaii, is expected to get below-freezing temperatures on Christmas Eve, said Alex Lamers, the warning coordination meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center.
Cold air just slurps up all the warmth for two-thirds of the country on Christmas Eve. In some places temperatures could drop dozens of degrees in a matter of hours, experts told the Times. Famously far-flung areas such as the Plains, Midwest and Great Lakes state can expect the extra wallop of snow with their frigid temperatures.
If you are driving around the holidays this year, it’s always a good idea to make sure your phone is fully charged and that you have some sort of blankets and water in your car before heading out. Not a cheerful thought, but neither is sliding into a snowbank.