Record-breaking crowds are expected to hit the roads across California this Labor Day weekend, with gas prices rising and the added stress in the North Bay of what the National Weather Service has dubbed an “extreme” and “oppressive” heat wave.
Sonoma County recreation and tourism industries are readying for an onslaught seeking reprieve from expected triple-digit heat, especially at the coast and along the Russian River, adding to travel congestion and stress. Campgrounds and hotels along the coast and around the county are near or at capacity.
“I mean, anytime the temperature goes over 90 degrees, it’s almost exponential in the amount of people that we see,” said David Robinson, Sonoma County Parks program manager. “We’re expecting all along the river (to be packed).”
In Sonoma County, weekend lodging is almost completely booked, said Tim Zahner, interim CEO for Sonoma County Tourism.
Gas prices are up about 40 cents in Santa Rosa this weekend over the same time last year, but that doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for the millions expected to hit the roads, Michael Blasky, spokesman for the American Automobile Association of Northern California.
While the AAA no longer tracks Labor Day travel, Blasky said other 2017 holidays have seen record numbers of travelers, and he doesn’t expect this long weekend to be any different, despite gas prices spiking across the country.
In the southern U.S. and up and down the East Coast, much of that increase can be attributed to the impact of Hurricane Harvey, which caused about one-quarter of oil refineries along the Gulf Coast to be taken off-line, according to AAA. But in Santa Rosa, where prices have ticked up 5 cents in the past week, the increase is attributable to the long weekend, paired with an increase in consumer confidence, Blasky said.
“It just really has to do with the economy, and (travelers) are not really put off by the prices,” Blasky said. “They’re not as high as what customers saw a couple of years ago, when we saw $4 gas.”
He urged travelers to keep water and emergency supplies in their cars.
Wine Country is expected to be the third most popular state travel destination, after Disneyland and Lake Tahoe, Blasky said.
The California Highway Patrol is preparing accordingly.
The agency is warning drivers to be prepared for increased traffic, as well as the demands the extreme heat will place on vehicles.
“Make sure to check your vehicle prior to leaving, especially with this heat,” said CHP Officer Custodio Lopez. “Make sure all the fluids are topped off, anything that you might have to carry. Make sure you have your cables in case your battery runs dead. ... Check your tires, check your extra tire. Carry water.”
Extra DUI enforcement is also planned across the North Bay for one of the year’s busiest weekends on the road.
For those looking for a respite from both tourists and heat, Sonoma County Tourism’s Zahner recommended heading to the Sonoma Coast, north of Jenner.
“It’s always beautiful, and tends to be less traveled,” he said. “But we are encouraging people to be careful and respectful no matter where they go.”