Southwest Colorado travelers can expect busy highways and airports this Thanksgiving week – historically the busiest travel time of the year – with a dose of winter weather thrown into the mix.
Heavier highway traffic is expected to last through Sunday, with a break on Thanksgiving Day, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Snow and rain are expected to move into the area on Thanksgiving Day and bring between 2 and 6 inches of snow to the mountains, said Chris Sanders, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. Rain is predicted in the valleys, he said.
The storm is moving in from the west and could head north. If that happens, the area could see far less precipitation, he said.
The timing of the storm is also uncertain. It could start Thursday morning, or it could slow down and arrive later in the day.
“It’s has been trending slower,” Sanders said.
Nearly 930,000 Coloradans are expected to travel 50 miles or more away from home during the holiday, a 7 percent increase compared with last year, according to AAA Colorado. It is the highest number of travelers in the state since 2005.
Most of the travelers – 810,000 – plan to drive, nearly 60,000 plan to fly and about 60,000 will travel by other means, according to a AAA Colorado news release.
Statewide, drivers should expect to pay an average of $2.84 per gallon, the highest price the state has seen during this time of year since 2014, according to GasBuddy. However, gas prices have fallen on average 4.1 cents per gallon statewide in the past week.
Holiday flights Traffic picked up Monday at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, and it was expected to stay busy for seven days, with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, said Tony Vicari, aviation director.
The airport expected to be at or near record travel levels, serving between 1,200 to 1,800 passengers on peak holiday travel days, he said. By comparison, the airport serves an average of 1,000 travelers per day, he said.
Travelers typically don’t face long lines at the Durango-La Plata County Airport, but this week, passengers should be sure to arrive 90 minutes before their departure, he said.
Two years ago, the airport ran out of parking spaces during the Thanksgiving travel season. Since then, the airport has added more than 100 new spaces, and Vicari said he doesn’t expect to run short on spaces this year.
The pending snow and rain forecast for Thanksgiving Day is not expected to pose problems at the airport, he said.
“Hopefully, everyone should have a smooth holiday flight out of our airport,” Vicari said.
More information about parking at Durango-La Plata County Airport is available at flydurango.com.
CDOT crews will be watching the incoming storm closely, said John Palmer, the agency’s deputy superintendent of maintenance in the Durango area.
“At this point, we are not expecting large accumulations of snow, but nevertheless, even an inch or 2 of snow can make the roads slick and hazardous. Operators will be on standby to roll out their plows with sand and de-icing products if needed,” he said.
To improve travel conditions, CDOT construction projects will be suspended statewide from Wednesday until Monday.
Drivers traveling to the Front Range should anticipate congestion on Interstate 70 and Interstate 25, according to CDOT.