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Weather, record number of travelers, could slow Thanksgiving commute

Despite COVID-19 putting a hold on many travel plans, Gainesville Regional Airport remains operational. (Kayla Price/WUFT News)
Despite COVID-19 putting a hold on many travel plans, Gainesville Regional Airport remains operational. (Kayla Price/WUFT News)

Floridians traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday could run into heavy rain, flooding and busy roads along the way.

This could be the busiest week of Thanksgiving travel in Florida since 2005, according to AAA. A staggering 2.9 million drivers are expected to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday.

A stalled front and a ridge of high pressure across the Southeast will increase the risk of local heavy downpours through Wednesday, according to WUFT meteorologist Justin Ballard. The downpours also bring the risk of flash floods along I-95 through Tuesday. Coastal areas can expect one to three inches of rain through Wednesday, he said.

Drivers should be prepared for very heavy traffic, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesperson for Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Typically Wednesday is the busiest day of travel, he said.

Gaskins encourages drivers to check travel routes ahead of time, ensure their vehicle is in good condition, break up long trips and find someone to share driving responsibilities with.

“Everyone is trying to get to their families, everyone has somewhere to be,” he said. “Be patient and use caution.”

There were 4,585 crashes on Florida roads during the five-day Thanksgiving travel period — Wednesday to Sunday — last year, according to FLHSMV. The most in one day, 1,205, occurred on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Nationally, many airports are preparing for what they expect to be the busiest Thanksgiving travel week since the onset of the pandemic, according to the Washington Post. Experts predict the travel will be staggered throughout the week, rather than a short burst, due to an increase in flexible work times and spaces. 

Gainesville Regional Airport has seen that expected increase in travel this week, according to Erin Porter, the airport’s manager of marketing and public relations. 

“Leading up to this week there's been quite a bit of activity at the airport,” she said. “People are definitely traveling for Thanksgiving this year.”

Many people fly out of Gainesville’s airport during Thanksgiving to avoid large crowds, Porter said.

“People in our area have taken advantage of the ease of travel out of our airport,” she said. “It’s a lot easier than making the trip to larger airports during this very busy holiday.”

As of Tuesday morning, travelers flying out of Gainesville shouldn’t fear weather issues, Porter said.

Nora is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing