A great Labor Day weekend ahead

With gas prices dropping and clear skies ahead in metro Atlanta, the Labor Day weekend is shaping up as a great time to get in the car and go.

The average metro Atlanta gas price is $2.53 a gallon, down 9 cents from a month ago and well below the national average of $2.67 a gallon, said Jessica Brady, spokeswoman for AAA Auto Club South.

The good news at the pump is registering across America as oil supplies have surged while demand has been less than expected, she said. A plunge in wholesale gasoline prices earlier this month is pushing down prices at the pump, PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said.

Some 850,000 Georgians are expected to hit the highways this holiday weekend, and the falling gas prices could spur "a lot of last-minute travelers," Brady said.

The price drop comes as the summer driving season ends, and gasoline supplies remain nearly 12 percent above the five-year average with overall demand below pre-recession levels, analysts say.

While metro Atlanta gasoline prices stand about 7 cents higher than this time last year, the prices remain "pretty affordable for a lot of motorists," Brady said. She said metro Atlanta prices could flutter a bit during the week but will probably land between $2.50 to $2.60 at week's end.

West Coast drivers pay the most for gas -- between $2.79 a gallon and $3.53 a gallon. The cheapest gas is in Texas, the Gulf states and parts of the Midwest, where prices range from $2.43 to $2.52 a gallon, analysts said.

The weather in metro Atlanta is also looking pretty agreeable this weekend, according to Rob Handel, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

"Our weather looks spectacular this Labor Day weekend, with mostly clear skies and afternoon highs between 80 and 90 degrees," he said.

But he did inject a note of concern for people traveling to coastal areas along the eastern seaboard. Forecasters are keeping a close eye on Hurricane Earl. The storm is expected to pass offshore along the Carolinas to Maine Thursday and Friday. While it remains unclear how far inland the storm will impact, coastal areas should expect some heavy rain and gusting winds.

"It's not necessarily optimal beach weather," Handel said.

For those planning to drive this weekend, AAA offered some tips to save fuel.

* Sensible driving saves gas. Avoid aggressive driving, rapid acceleration and speeding. They can lower gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent on other roads.

* Avoid constant braking. Be alert for slowdowns and red lights ahead of you, and decelerate by coasting whenever possible.

* Use the air conditioner conservatively. Most air conditioners have an "economy" or "recirculation" setting that reduces the amount of hot outside air that must be chilled.

* Remove excess weight. An extra 100 pounds in a vehicle can reduce miles per gallon by up to 2 percent.

* Do not leave the car in idle. Cars with larger engines typically waste more gas at idle than do cars with smaller engines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.