Hitting the road for the Fourth

Published: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:23 p.m.

Holiday travelers can expect plenty of traffic and rain through the Fourth of July weekend.


What's in store weather-wise

Friday: High 85 degrees, Low 71 degrees, 70 percent chance of rain
Saturday: High 86 degrees, Low 72 degrees, 50 percent chance of rain
Sunday: High 86 degrees, Low 72 degrees, 40 percent chance of rain

AAA Auto Club South predicts some 34.9 million Americans will hit the road starting today through Monday, a projected increase of 17.1 percent from last year.

Meanwhile, meteorologists predict the holiday weekend will kick off with a 70 percent chance of showers today, according to the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.

For those en route on Florida interstates, the drive will be an especially rainy one.

"The best time to drive is during the afternoon -- after 2 p.m. -- and early evening, up until 8 or 9 p.m.," said Phil Peterson, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.

Due to lasting effects of tropical storm Alex, Peterson warns of 20 mph winds causing rip tides -- also known as strong currents of water -- along the coast.

"People need to be on the lookout" while at the beach this weekend, he said. "Check with the lifeguard before going into the water."

Motorists will travel an average of 50 miles or more from home, and will enjoy gas prices that have not skyrocketed like they have in past summers, said Jessica Brady, AAA Auto Club South spokesperson.

Kelly Fawcett of Clermont, who said she will travel to Camp Blanding for a weekend family reunion, still considers gas prices high. That won't stop her from making the six-hour roundtrip drive to visit relatives she hasn't seen in almost five years.

"Gas prices certainly play into it," she said. "But family is more important."

Gas prices in Gainesville averaged $2.76, only a cent difference from last summer's cost, said Brady. The national average is $2.75, slightly above the $2.63 average from a year ago, according to AAA's fuel gauge report website.

Local gas station employees said they are expecting a surge in customers Friday as people take to the road for the Fourth of July.

"We usually are very busy the days before the holiday," said Stephen Burguss, a Marathon store clerk, who said he often notes a lot of license plates from Ohio during the holidays.

"Maybe that's because there are Marathon stations in Ohio, too," he jokes.

Compared to other stations in Gainesville, the Marathon station on Williston Road has the lowest-priced gas at $2.69 for regular.

As for the increase in travel on the roads this year, Brady credits it to the strengthening economy.

"The economy is in a better place than where it was," she said.

The top hot spots in the Southeast include Florida beaches and Savannah, Ga., said Brady.

"Theme parks are also popular because kids are out of school," said Brady.

For those who plan on using the long weekend to party, Brady recommends AAA's Tow to Go program.

If a person is intoxicated, they may call up 1-800-AAA-HELP, free of charge, and get their car towed home.

The service is available to AAA members and non-members alike, said Brady. AAA partnered with Budweiser to provide the free tow services to keep the community safe and offers rides during major holidays.

As for being out on the road with the predicted weather conditions, Peterson advises people to take caution.

"Be prepared to slow down," he said. "And use low beam headlights in heavy rain."

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