The record number of holiday travelers hitting the road this week are getting an early gift this year: mild weather across the central U.S.

Bob Larson, a meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc., The World-Herald’s private weather consultant, said the forecast is for “tranquil” weather in the days leading up to Christmas and relatively decent weather after the holiday.

No major storms are forecast across the central U.S., which includes just about anywhere within a day’s drive of Omaha, he said.

“Does that mean we’ll be 100% OK?” he said. “No, we always put an asterisk on it.”

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One significant potential worry, given current conditions, is fog, either on its own, or worse, freezing fog and the potential for a thin veneer of black ice. This can happen when warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico flows north and encounters cold conditions at the surface.

Other wintertime factors also contribute to fog formation. People should take care stepping outdoors, and travelers should check conditions if they’re planning early morning departures. Drivers should be especially careful on bridges, which freeze up easier than roadways.

“I don’t think we’ll see anything widespread, but that’s the kind of thing that can go awry,” he said. For example, southeastern Kansas and much of Oklahoma were under a dense fog advisory Sunday night into Monday morning.

Thick fog and ice may have contributed to a massive pileup in Virginia on Sunday. At least 69 vehicles collided and dozens of people were injured, according to the Associated Press.

AAA estimates that 115.6 million people are traveling this holiday season, which started Saturday and runs through Jan. 1. That’s the highest number since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000. The vast majority, an estimated 104 million, will be driving, according to AAA.

In the Omaha metro area, unseasonably warm weather is forecast the rest of the week, but no record highs are expected, Larson said. Highs all week are expected to be in the 40s and 50s; the normal high for this part of December is 33. Lows are forecast in the 20s.

Thursday into the weekend in the central U.S., there’s a chance of rain or snow, according to Larson and the National Weather Service. But so far, those systems aren’t looking like major outbreaks, Larson said. In Omaha, the chance for precipitation arrives Friday afternoon, based on early forecasts.

Photos: 1948-1949 blizzards

Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Phone: 402-444-1102.

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