Millions to travel this week; area weather to stay mostly dry

’Tis the season for holiday travel. A record 5.6 million Californians will travel 50 miles or more during the four-day weekend, the highest number of people since 2007, according to AAA. While a snowstorm threatens the Northeast, California’s sunny skies and warm weather will mean smooth sailing for most travelers today and Thursday. Still, transportation experts are urging people to head out early to avoid the crowds.

Weather: The National Weather Service is forecasting clear skies and mild temperatures for the Sacramento region during the early part of the extended weekend. Temperatures today and on Thanksgiving will hover in the upper 60s. A chance of rain is expected Friday night and Saturday. Rain is likely Sunday, according to the weather service.

Air travel: Sacramento International Airport officials have beefed up staffing in anticipation of the travel crunch. Spokeswoman Laurie Slothower said she doesn’t anticipate too many weather-related travel delays because 80 percent of the airport’s flights take place on the West Coast. “But because of the domino nature of air travel, any serious weather event is going to impact travelers,” she said. Slothower recommends that travelers check airline websites or social media accounts for updated information.

Car travel: More than 4.8 million Californians are expected to hit the road by car this holiday weekend, an increase of 3.9 percent over last year, according to a survey by AAA. The automobile club believes increased disposable income is spurring holiday travel. AAA projects that a West Coast family of four will drive an average of 434 miles and spend $700 during the long weekend, mostly on food, fuel and shopping.

Traffic information is available from websites such as Google Maps and 511.org. Road-condition information is available at the state Department of Transportation website: www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi.

Train travel: Amtrak is adding extra capacity on the San Joaquin, Pacific Surfliner and Capitol Corridor routes. Through Sunday, 700 seats will be added to the Capitol Corridor route that runs between Sacramento and the Bay Area. Amtrak recommends that travelers purchase their tickets in advance on Amtrak.com. Capitol Corridor passengers may call (877) 974-3322.

Gas: Gasoline prices in the region have plummeted to their lowest levels in four years, according to national gas-price tracker GasBuddy.com. The retail price of gas fell another 4.9 percent over the past week, bringing the regional average to $2.98. Analysts say the dip in prices will push consumers to spend more on travel and other discretionary expenses, such as shopping.

Call The Bee’s Richard Chang at (916)321-1018. Follow him on Twitter @RichardYChang.