Winter blast expected to delay Maryland travelers heading into the holiday

Published 12/22/2022 4:26 p.m. EST, Updated 12/23/2022 11:54 a.m. EST

Car rides on an icy road. Slippery ice road.

Year-end travelers should give themselves extra time to get to their destination as more than 2.2 million Marylanders will travel amid the wintry conditions, according to AAA.

At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Executive Director Ricky Smith said they’re expecting 30,000 passengers a day to depart on both Thursday and Friday. As of Thursday afternoon, airlines had canceled 27 flights out of BWI as the winter storm heads eastbound, Smith said.

“There may be more cancellations and so we’re encouraging passengers to call their airline or frequently check our [the airport’s] website to track their flights,” Smith said. “The weather is fine [here] and so airlines aren’t having issues getting into the airport or out of the airport, but the real issues are getting people to their destination in the Midwest and in the Northeast.”

Smith added that passengers should arrive two hours early for domestic flights and three hours early for international flights, “which gives you time to get through parking, get through traffic, get through check in and the security check point.”

He also encouraged those picking up travelers to use the departure upper level gates, where it’s less congested, instead of the arrival gates.

“After we get through the Christmas holiday, passenger traffic tends to drop off for New Year’s. It’s not a heavy travel period for us,” Smith said.

In a briefing on Thursday, President Joe Biden also told people to take the upcoming storm “extremely seriously.”

“I don’t know whether your bosses will let you, but if you all have travel plans, leave now,” Biden said. “Not a joke.”

“This is really a very serious weather alert here,” Biden said. “And it goes from Oklahoma all the way to Wyoming, and Wyoming to Maine. And it’s of real consequence.”

Despite lingering effects of COVID-19 and a particularly bad flu season, AAA Mid-Atlantic predicts that compared to last year, about 10% more people are flying somewhere for the holidays between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2. But more than 90% of travelers will drive to their destinations.

With extreme cold temperatures forecast, AAA Mid-Atlantic officials encouraged people to plan ahead.

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“There is no convenient time to experience a breakdown, but over a holiday weekend in the extreme cold could be a worst-case scenario, especially if you are traveling with children or seniors,” Edward Hickey, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Baltimore fleet manager, wrote in a statement to The Baltimore Banner on Thursday.

The automobile repair service said it responded to more than 147,000 emergency roadside calls in Maryland last winter between December 2021 and March 2022. More than 30% — or nearly 46,000 — of those calls were for dead batteries. Calls will likely increase as temperatures drop.

Here are some suggestions from AAA Mid-Atlantic on how drivers can prepare:

Check your battery

Compared to normal conditions, starting an engine in cold temperatures can take up to twice as long. The average battery lasts three to five years, and there’s often no warning that it’s going to die. A battery that worked last week could fail under colder conditions.

Check your tires

  • Check tire pressure. Colder temperatures may require adding air to your tires. As the air temperature drops outside, so does the air pressure in your tires. For every 10-degree change in air temperature, a tire’s pressure will change by about 1-2 PSI (pounds per square inch). Tire pressure should match recommendations in your owner’s manual or on the driver-side door jamb.
  • Check tire tread. A healthy tread increases traction and is essential for safe driving.
  • Check for a spare tire. Many newer cars do not come with a spare, which many drivers don’t realize until they are stranded.

Pack a winter emergency kit

Consider loading your car with the following items: an ice scraper with a brush; a bag of abrasive material (such as sand or cat litter) or traction mats; a shovel; a flashlight with extra batteries; flares or a reflective triangle; a phone charger; blankets and extra coats/hats/gloves; non-perishable snacks and water; and extra medicine.