In many parts of the nation, winter was so bone-crackin' cold that it spawned some odd numerical nonsense. For about a week in February, temperatures in Barrow, Alaska — so far north that not even polar bears dare venture there — were warmer than in Chicago. Alas, the Windy City wrapped itself in a polar vortex frigid as freezer ice coating a pack of brats.
With those terrible temps a memory (sort of), it's time to remember something different: the sacrifices of America's soldiers. It's also high time to dwell on numbers that pertain to Memorial Day and the official kickoff of summer. So let's do it: Take those frozen brats and get 'em ready for the grill, as we treat you to a feast of tasty holiday digits.
Travelers Hitting the Road: 37.2 Million
It's impossible to predict the number of front-seat spouse fights, or hapless drivers snagged by speed traps — but we can forecast the size of America's motoring herd. The number of drivers taking to the turnpike, interstate, or scenic backroad will rise 3 percent compared to 2014, according to AAA.
The estimate applies to trips of 50 miles or more and last year, 36.1 million travelers packed up the ranch and the (hot) dog, up 1.5 percent from 2013. The Memorial Day weekend for AAA's purposes lasts from Thursday, May 21 to Monday, May 25. So if you can't get Friday off, call in sick and tell 'em it was AAA's idea.
Average Price of Unleaded Gas: $2.66 per Gallon
That figure, also provided by AAA, reflects a price jump of more than 20 percent since January. As of early May, gas prices had gone up for at least 19 consecutive days. Still, $2.66 is way, way lower than what gas cost three years ago at this time. In 2012, Memorial Day gas prices hit an average of about $3.65 a gallon, and the fuel fear mongers predicted that it was only a matter of months before fuel might hit the $5 mark. That didn't happen.
But it's remarkable that gas in Hawaii ($3.19) is currently way cheaper than in California ($3.71). Then again: How long a road trip can you take in the Aloha State unless you have a car that converts into a hydrofoil?
Hot Dogs Consumed Per Second: More Than 800
Memorial Day not only ushers in summer, but peak hot dog-eating season. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council notes that starting on Memorial Day, Americans will consume a stomach-busting 818 dawgs per second. That's just a few wieners short of 71 million in a day. While we're not sure how many packages that equals, we're betting the equivalent number of bun packs would fall short by, oh, 1.3 million or so.
Percentage of Celebrants Who Will Barbecue: 57 percent
The grilling gurus at the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association share with us a trio of stats that make for a nifty curve. Before we share that, we'll tell you something your salivary glands may already know: Top choices for grilling will be burgers (85%), steak (80%), hot dogs (79%) and chicken (73%), with no sign of tofurkey anywhere in the ratings. Hickory is the top flavor of barbecue sauce, followed by mesquite, honey, and spicy-hot.
Americans will eat 818 hot dogs per second on Memorial Day. That's a few wieners short of 71 million in a day.
And as for that summer statistical symmetry, Memorial Day leads up to the number one barbecue event, July 4 (71%) before coasting down into Labor Day (a close third at 55 percent). Rounding to the top ten in numerous dead heats are all the summer days in between.
TV Viewers of the National Memorial Day Parade: 1.5 Million
Put on since 2005, the National Memorial Day Parade in Washington, D.C. marks the largest of its kind in the U.S., and should easily attract 250,000 live spectators. It starts at 2 p.m. Monday, May 25.
In a strange nod to non-tradition, rock bad boy Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins will participate. Corgan and company released the track "Drum and Fife" to raise public awareness about soldiers suffering from PTSD. But given the band's rep for ear-splitting post-grunge, we can imagine more than a few World War II-era vets grumbling, "Turn that garbage down!"
Smallest Memorial Parade of the Decade: 14 people
The Memorial Day parade in Fox Point, Wisc., 10 miles north of Milwaukee, had dwindled to the point where locals weren't even sure it existed anymore. (It didn't.)
Enter a dozen determined Boy Scouts and their leaders in Troop 391, who in 2013 marched less than a mile in a slate-gray rain towards Lake Michigan. If you went to a family picnic that year, you probably had more guests at your dinner table. And if you attended the parade, as a handful of onlookers did, you witnessed a humble yet undaunted display of patriotism to do Gen. Douglas MacArthur proud.
Number of Years Since the Civil War Ended: 150
This Memorial Day has two round numbers to offer, as 2015 also marks the 70th anniversary of WWII's close. Those anniversaries mark solemn, welcome endings to conflicts that left behind a much starker set of numbers. More than 400,000 U.S. servicemen lost their lives in WW II, and 750,000 in the Civil War, an estimate just revised in 2012. In fact, Memorial Day originally honored those who died in the Civil War.
Whether you hop in the car, board a plane, or plant yourself in the backyard with grill tongs in one fist and a flag in the other, Memorial Day makes for the quintessential travel holiday. That is: Go back in time to those key points in American history when our military men and women fought, and died, to preserve the freedoms we hold dear.
Such annual occasions don't come often and if you blink (or belch from too much picnic action), you'll miss them. Take a lesson from those dozen bold Boy Scouts in Fox Point, Wisc.: Don't let the parade of patriotism pass you by.
This article first appeared in DealNews.