(NewsNation) — As the holiday season kicks off, forecasters are warning of treacherous holiday travel and life-threatening cold for many in the nation.
“We’re looking at much-below normal temperatures, potentially record-low temperatures leading up to the Christmas holiday,” said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The “rare and hazardous arctic air mass will likely bring extreme and prolonged freezing conditions for southern Mississippi and southeast Louisiana,” the National Weather Service in a special weather statement Sunday.
By Thursday night, temperatures will plunge as low as 13 degrees in Jackson, Mississippi, and around 5 degrees in Nashville, Tennessee, the National Weather Service predicts.
The incoming arctic air arrives as an earlier storm system in the Northeastern U.S. gradually winds down after burying parts of the region under two feet of snow. More than 80,000 customers in New England were still without power on Sunday morning, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages across the country.
For much of the U.S., the winter weather will get worse before it gets better. The coming week will bring the potential for a “significant winter storm” across the eastern two-thirds of the United States during the second half of the week, just before Christmas, according to the latest forecasts from the federal Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
The snow and potential winter storm could cause travel disruptions across the nation for millions of holiday travelers, including flight cancellations and delays.
According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), 2022 is anticipated to be the third busiest year for holiday travel since AAA began tracking in 2000.
“This year, travel time will be extended due to Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays,” said Paula Twidale, AAA’s Senior Vice President of Travel. “With hybrid work schedules, we are seeing more people take long weekends to travel because they can work remotely at their destination and be more flexible with the days they depart and return.”
AAA estimates that nearly 113 million Americans plan to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 — an increase of 3.6 million people over last year and closing in on pre-pandemic numbers.
It expects 102 million Americans to drive to their holiday destinations as gas prices are on track to drop below $3 per gallon by Christmas, NewsNation affiliate WFLA reported.
“This holiday season will see an additional 2 million drivers compared to 2021,” AAA said. “Travel by car this year is on par with 2018 but shy of 2019 when 108 million Americans drove out of town for the holidays, the highest year on record.”
Even with a winter storm threat and severe cold, there are some things you can do to make sure you get to your destination without becoming a Grinch, or being stuck in the airport for hours on end.
“If you haven’t booked your tickets already, you want to look at the 24th, Christmas Eve, or if it’s a short flight, and you can manage it, flying in on Christmas morning,” Travel expert Sandra McLemore said on NewsNation Live. “Those are going to be two really easy days to travel.”
People might want to steer clear of flying on Dec. 23. McLemore says this will likely be the busiest day for traveling.
Experts also suggest checking the status of your flight before leaving home in case of any delays or cancellations. Also, they suggest packing for any possible disruptions. Some extra food, a pillow and some warm comfy clothes can go a long way if you end up stuck in the airport for hours.
The Associated Press, NewsNation affiliate WFLA and Nexstar Media Wire contributed to this report.