By Alex Lippa
---- — The day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. This year, another element will be coming into play — weather.
The National Weather Service is predicting torrential rain throughout the day tomorrow, with totals possibly reaching 3 inches.
“It should be all liquid precipitation in the southern part of the state,” said Mike Kistner, meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “But the wind will be strong. We could get up to 50-mph gusts of wind by midday (tomorrow).”
The weather could deter some people from traveling tomorrow, but fewer people were already projected to travel.
Pat Moody, spokesman for AAA of Northern New England, said AAA projects 43.4 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. That is down 1.5 percent from last year.
“Even though the economy is improving, its sluggish pace can create some uncertainty,” Moody said. “You add in the unfriendly weather and that may factor in a larger decrease.”
He said the weather likely wouldn’t prevent people from taking their trips, but rather cause them to work around it.
“It’s not going to be about whether to go or not,” he said. “Instead, it will impact when exactly they leave.”
AAA estimates 37 percent of all travelers will be leaving tomorrow, the highest number any day this week. Sunday is the heaviest traveled return day, with 33 percent of travelers expected to be on the road then.
New Hampshire State Police Lt. Gary Wood said there will be extra patrols on the road, starting tomorrow.
“We expect heavy traffic on all of our major arteries from Wednesday through Sunday,” he said. “With bad weather expected on Wednesday, the road conditions could get dangerous.”
State police will also keep an eye out for impaired drivers.
“They seem to be more frequent during the holiday time of the year compared to other times,” Wood said. “We want everyone to get to their destination safely.”
In Massachusetts, state police said they are focused on making sure everyone’s seat belts are fastened.
“The single most important thing that motorists can do to keep themselves safe while driving this Thanksgiving is to buckle up and make sure everyone else in the vehicle is buckled up,” police said in a prepared statement.
But the weather will remain a major factor.
“Activity will likely start (tonight) between 8 p.m. and midnight,” Kistner said. “The system will bring heavy rain and winds by Wednesday morning.”
At Public Service of New Hampshire, officials are monitoring the forecast to prepare for potential power outages. Utility crews were busy all weekend after tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents lost power after high wind blew trees down and branches into wires.
But no extra manpower has been called in for Thanksgiving — yet.
“ We’re keeping a very close eye on weather,” said Martin Murray, spokesman for PSNH. “ It’s a forecast, not an event right now. Obviously, we’ll be prepared to make that call if conditions warrant. We don’t always wait for outages, but if stars are misaligned, we will seek help before a storm comes just in case.”
While tomorrow’s storm will not likely bring winter weather, people have been preparing for winter all month.
At Fay’s Salem Tire, winter tires are flying off the shelves.
“People really start getting them the beginning of November,” said Mike Barnes, operations manager at Fay’s. “If you wait until the snow starts, it becomes tougher to find them.”
While there won’t be any snow tomorrow, that won’t be making it any easier to drive.
“I know I’m going to be leaving on Tuesday now,” Kistner said. “I don’t want to be driving Wednesday.”
Kistner said the high temperature should nudge 40 degrees today before the precipitation starts tonight.
Highs tomorrow are expected to approach 60 degrees. It will likely cool down on Thursday with a high of 32.
It could be chilly night for Black Friday shoppers with a high of 15 Thursday night.