COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The most wonderful time of the year is turning out to be not so wonderful for travelers, due to the upcoming winter storm.
AAA is predicting 4.6 million Ohioans will travel in the coming days, around 90 percent of those driving. Officials say Thursday and Friday will be the busiest travel days both on the roads and in the skies. The forecast shows those are also the days the weather will be at its worst. “So heavy congestion mixed with winter weather is not a good combination,” said Kimberly Schwind, the spokesperson for AAA.
She said if you can adjust your plans to not be on the roads those days – do it. “Maybe adjust your plans to leave a day earlier or a day late to avoid driving in those winter conditions. We are expecting a lot of people to be traveling so the 23rd expect it to be one of the most congested days on the roadways,” Schwind said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation said this could create some challenges. “We are fully expecting it to start as rain. That really puts us at a disadvantage from the very beginning because it doesn’t allow us to pretreat with brine,” said Brooke Ebersole, the Public Information Officer for ODOT Columbus. “But when those temperatures drop, they are expected to nosedive and drop quick. That will require our crews to deploy very quickly and get out there and keep those roads treated with salt. But you should anticipate for those roads to become icy.”
AAA is predicting more than 900 thousand Americans will need roadside assistance. Their best piece of advice – if you can adjust your travel plans, do it. If you can’t, drive slowly and ensure your car is equipped to handle the conditions. ODOT is also asking drivers to leave space behind plows and practice smart driving.
“Planning ahead so you are not trying to rush and drive faster than the conditions is a must. I can tell you as we stand here right now even with all of our crews out ahead of the storm, during the storm roads are going to be snow covered. It’s going to be hazardous; it’s going to be slick, you will not be driving the speed limit on our highways,” said Matt Bruning, ODOT’s Press Secretary.
ODOT Columbus said they are still down 15 percent of plow drivers. However, they say they are prepared and ask people to be patient. According to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, last Christmas weekend from December 23-26, 10 motorists were killed in car crashes.
50 percent of those accidents involved alcohol or drug use. OSHP asks drivers to drive sober, put their phones down and leave with enough time to spare. “If you are going to be heading out on the roadways, ensure that you leave in enough time to get yourself safely to your destination without having to rush. When you are out driving, ensure that you leave yourself with increased stopping distance in front of you,” said Lt. Nathan Dennis, the Public Information Officer for OSHP.
As for the skies, Columbus airports are expected to see around 180 thousand departing passengers from now until the new year. This number is higher than last year. They are also preparing for the winter weather. “Our teams are prepared for the winter weather. Once that weather hits we are ready to activate our snow and ice removal teams to keep the runways clear of snow and ice,” said Columbus Regional Airport Authority Communications director, Sarah Mcquaide.
Officials say the best way to keep track of flight delays and cancellations is to download your airline’s app. “That way you can check in for your flight, download a mobile boarding pass, and then you can get real time flight status updates from your airline,” McQuaide said.
Airport officials also want to remind flyers to arrive early – that way you have enough time to get to the airport and go through security.
As it is a busy weekend, TSA officials say they will be on high alert as well. “The busy days for us will be Thursday, Friday and Tuesday. Specifically, if you are flying during the 5 o’clock hour or 6 o’clock hour because the wave comes at us all at once,” said Don Barker, Ohio’s Federal Security Director.
Barker also wants to remind flyers that firearms are not permitted through TSA checkpoints or on flights unless previously approved by the airline. If approved the firearm must be properly stored and ammunition must be separated. Barker said this year Columbus has had 40 violations. This is an all-time high. He said there has been about a 30 percent increase each year for the last few years with gun violations in this airport.
“Again, the only positive side of that is in 20 years of this job I’ve never seen someone with intent of trying to get through the checkpoint,” Barker said.