Updated at 8:21 a.m. May 24. This story has been updated to reflect the latest weather forecast.
Chattanooga is sure to see its fair share of Memorial Day travelers this weekend with little to no rain in the forecast, scorching temperatures and the second-highest travel volume on record.
AAA reports that nearly 43 million Americans will vacation over the three-day weekend — that's an additional 1.5 million people compared to last year and a 3.6% increase. It's the second-highest travel volume on record since AAA began tracking holiday volumes in 2000. The highest volume recorded was in 2005, according to the organization.
"Americans are eagerly anticipating the start of summer, and expensive gas prices won't keep them home this Memorial Day weekend," said Paula Twidale, vice president of AAA Travel. "Consumer spending remains strong, helped by solid job and income growth. Families continue to prioritize spending their disposable incomes on travel, and near-record numbers of them are looking forward to doing just that for Memorial Day."
With more than 863,000 Tennesseans planning to travel for the long holiday weekend and more than 752,000 planning on driving to their destinations, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced it will suspend all construction-related lane closures on interstates and state routes beginning at noon Friday through 6 a.m. on Tuesday.
It will be mostly sunny and hot all weekend with Friday's forecast showing just a few afternoon clouds and a high of 93 degrees, according to WRCB-TV Channel 3. There's a high of 93 Saturday and 94 on Sunday. Memorial Day could hit 95 degrees.
The national gas price average, AAA states, is approaching the $3-per-gallon mark as the holiday weekend approaches, and GasBuddy's analysis shows Chattanooga gas prices have fallen 3.9 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.38 per gallon as of May 20.
Hot and humid
Hot and humid
Hot and humid
Hot and humid
While AAA figures show a majority of people will travel by car — nearly 88% or 37.6 million — about 7.5% are expected to fly and nearly 4.5% will travel by bus, train or a cruise ship.
"The national average price of gasoline has continued its slow retreat in a majority of states in the last week. With a trade deal with China seemingly more and more unlikely, we may continue to see weakness in oil and gasoline prices," said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy. "I expect the bulk of states to see lower gas prices continue just in time for Memorial Day while some, inevitably, will see increases."
Chattanooga still remains the "affordable family weekend getaway" compared to bigger cities, such as Nashville and Atlanta, which makes it an attractive destination for a long holiday weekend.
The Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau reports attendance numbers at the area's top attractions flattened out the first few months of 2019 compared to 2018 due to rain and flooding in the area — there was measurable rainfall 22 out of 28 days in February, making 2019 the wettest February ever recorded in the Tennessee Valley.
"Attractions overall have been running kind of flat compared to the prior year," said CVB President and CEO Barry White about visitor attendance. "A lot of that we attribute to weather. Rain can actually be good for some attractions but very bad for Ruby Falls and Rock City."
Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain had to suspend cave tours of the underground attraction for six days in February because of flooding on the cavern trail.
"There were several days in March and April we had a delayed opening or had to close the cave early, as well," said Lara Caughman, Ruby Falls communications manager.
Caughman said most of Saturday and Sunday's "Classic Waterfall Tours" will sell out this weekend, and officials are recommending guests purchase their tickets online in advance. With the expected hot weather, it's a nice time to go underground where it's 60 degrees year-round, she said.
While the Tennessee Aquarium can be a refuge for visitors either escaping the rain or the heat, chief marketing officer Cindy Todd said attendance held up through the spring and the Aquarium is expecting to see 15,000 guests over the holiday weekend. A brand new IMAX film, "Great Barrier Reef 3D," opens this weekend at the attraction.
"I imagine there were a lot of folks who decided to postpone a Chattanooga getaway during a rainy spring weekend, and we hope to see them this summer," she said.
Susan Harris, president and COO of See Rock City, said the attraction in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, had a "solid first quarter" in 2019 with all of its spring events being very well attended.
"May has seen good attendance as well and we are excited about the upcoming holiday weekend," she said.
The Chattanooga Ducks is also anticipating a sold-out weekend of Tennessee River tours to accommodate those looking to cool off.
Jon Reinert, general manager of the Reinert Group LLC, which bought the company in April, said the Ducks will be running 22 cruises on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Reinert Group manages the Southern Belle Riverboat, the Chattanooga Ducks, the Third Deck Burger Bar and the Mayor's Mansion Inn Bed and Breakfast near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The duck boats are now located at 151 Riverfront Parkway.
"This is one of the first weekends that it hasn't been forecasted for rain," Reinert said. "Everything is going to be sold out all weekend."
Contact Allison Shirk Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org, @AllisonSCollins or 423-757-6651.