(USA Today) Americans hitting the road Friday for the Memorial Day weekend were finding gas prices a tick or two higher than the day before or a week ago but still about the same as last year at this time.
According to auto club AAA, the national average for a gallon of regular unleaded on "getaway" day – when most people hit the road for the long weekend – was $3.656, up from $3.649 a day earlier but about the same as the $3.659 of a year ago.
AAA said last week that 36.1 million people would travel at least 50 miles from home May 22 through May 26, up from 35.5 million last year. That's the highest total since the recession and the second highest total since 2000, behind only the 44 million who traveled during Memorial Day 2005.
Most of this year's travelers – 31.8 million – are going by automobile. As drivers headed out Friday amid stepped-up law enforcement efforts in much of the USA, AAA had seen nothing to alter its projection, spokeswoman Heather Hunter said.
"We're not seeing any major weather systems or anything that would disrupt travel," she said. " We're not seeing any big movement (in gas prices) that would deter people from traveling or spur more travel. Prices remain relatively similar to last year."
Much of the nation will enjoy fairly tranquil, dry weather this holiday weekend, but showers and thunderstorms could wash out outdoor activities in the central and southern Plains, according to AccuWeather.
"There is the potential for several inches of rain to fall on the area from central and western Texas to western and central Oklahoma and Kansas through Memorial Day," AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said. The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood watch in some areas because of the predicted heavy rain.
While the timing is poor for holiday revelers, much of that region is enduring extreme to exceptional drought conditions, which the rain should help alleviate.
Elsewhere, on-and-off showers and cool temperatures are expected in the Northeast through much of the weekend. A few thunderstorms may erupt across the upper Great Lakes, the southern Appalachians and Deep South by Sunday and Memorial Day, AccuWeather reports.
And swimmers, beware! Water temperatures at beaches in the Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast are still on the frigid side because of the unusually chilly winter. A tiny bit of ice even remains along the southern shores of Lake Superior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports.
On the roads this holiday, drivers can expect to see more police than usual. The Click It or Ticket campaign, when law enforcement agencies around the nation join forces to crack down on seat belt violations, speeding and drunken driving, runs May 19-June 1.
In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says, 377 people died in crashes during the Memorial holiday. NHTSA on Friday urged drivers to buckle up every trip, avoid driving after drinking, check the safety of tires and keep children safe in and around vehicles.
Memorial Day also kicks off the period known as the "100 Deadliest Days" of driving for teenagers. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2012, nearly 1,000 people were killed in crashes involving teen drivers, more than 550 of them teens, according to the National Safety Council.
It's not just teens, either.
According to a AAA analysis of NHTSA data, teen driver and passenger deaths increase an average of 26% during the 100 Deadliest Days. But driver and passenger deaths for those 16 and up increase an average of 16%.
Top 10: Facts about Memorial Day