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WEATHER ALERT: Severe storms expected late this afternoon and evening

Memorial Day weekend travel to be congested with severe weather on the way

Motorists travel westbound along Interstate 40, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday.

America is back, baby.

Airports and roadways are expected to be jam-packed during the Memorial Day weekend, making up for travel lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis from AAA. But severe and potentially destructive storms forecast for the Plains, Midwest and mid-South through Memorial Day weekend may dampen the fun.

AAA projects 43.8 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home from Thursday, May 23 through Monday, May 27 — “the second highest Memorial Day weekend that we’ve ever tracked” and up 4% from last year, Aixa Diaz, a spokeswoman for AAA, told NPR.

About 38.4 million people are projected to drive over Memorial Day weekend — “the highest number for that holiday since AAA began tracking in 2000,” the organization said.

Another 3.5 million people will take to the skies.

The Transportation Security Administration said it is preparing for an influx of nearly 3 million passengers on Friday alone. From May 23 to May 29, the agency said it expects to screen more than 18 million passengers and crew — up 6.4% compared to the same time last year.

AAA says this indicates America is back to pre-pandemic travel numbers. “Not only that, but we’re surpassing them,” Diaz said.

Travelers make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Travelers make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

“A lot of people are wanting to get away to sort of get that first taste of summer. But also this continues this pattern of post pandemic travel,” Diaz said. “It started off as revenge travel right after the pandemic around like 2021, 2022. But what we’ve really seen the past couple of years is that more people now are prioritizing travel.”

Tips to prepare for bad weather and traffic

Bad weather, including thunderstorms, wildfires and even snow, is forecast to hit areas including Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Montana as “multiple jet stream disturbances tap into warm and humid air,” Weather.com said citing outlooks from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center.

Threats this weekend also include tornadoes, damaging wind and hail. This is all set to come after a tornado swept through Iowa earlier this week killing four people and injuring at least 35.

Despite this, most travelers have already left or are planning to leave on Friday.

“So right now we’re in the thick of it,” Diaz said. The best chance to avoid jam packed roads is to “avoid hitting the road during those rush hour times when many people who are still going to work on Thursday and Friday, are mixing with travelers on the roads,” she said.

Diaz also recommends travelers “try to leave as little to chance as possible.”

That means heading to the airport at least two hours early, preparing for long TSA lines, gassing up vehicles before hitting the interstate and packing cars with an emergency kit (filled with snacks, extra water and blankets).

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Severe storms possible Thursday evening and overnight

From the National Weather Service in Central Illinois: A line of t’storms will affect the area late Thursday afternoon into the overnight hours. Some severe storms are in the forecast, with damaging wind gusts and large hail. Stay weather aware and be ready to take shelter when storms approach.