- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A record number of motorists from the Carolinas are expected to head out on the highway for the start of the summer season this Memorial Day weekend with gas prices the lowest in more than a decade.

AAA Carolinas forecasts that just over 1 million North Carolina motorists and nearly 500,000 in South Carolina will take road trips of 50 miles or more. That’s an increase of more than 2 percent over last year.

The average price for a gallon of gas in North Carolina is $2.21 while in South Carolina it’s $2.05 - the main difference being the lower South Carolina state gasoline tax.

Gas in both states costs about 37 cents less a gallon than a year ago. The last time gas prices were this low in the Carolinas over Memorial Day was in 2005 when the price was just under $2 a gallon.

The motor club based in Charlotte, North Carolina, considers the Memorial Day weekend period to run from Thursday through next Monday.

AAA Carolinas says the top driving destinations for motorists from the Carolinas are Charleston, Myrtle Beach and, unusually, Denver. Other top driving destinations are Orlando, Florida; and Savannah, Georgia.

Club spokeswoman Tiffany Wright says the top destinations are based on club members who get help from AAA in making hotel, car rental or other reservations for certain destinations.

Almost 120,000 residents of the Carolinas are expected to fly to destinations this weekend with airfares for the top 40 domestic routes about 25 percent cheaper than a year ago.

In Charleston, the weekend marks the opening of the 40th season of the Spoleto Festival USA. The internationally known arts festival opens Friday and features more than 150 performances of opera, theater, dance and music through June 12. This year’s festival includes the first Spoleto production of the iconic opera “Porgy and Bess,” which is set in Charleston.

In the Myrtle Beach area, Memorial Day marks the start of the summer beach season and an estimated 400,000 visitors are expected to flock to the resort town and other beaches on South Carolina’s northeast coast.

The weather should be fine for those hitting the beach over the long holiday weekend. The extended forecast for the South Carolina coast calls for clear to partly cloudy weather with highs in the mid- to upper-80s during the weekend with a chance of thunderstorms on Memorial Day itself.

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