Foul weather threatens to snarl US holiday travel

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm •  Published: December 20, 2013
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Holiday travelers in the Midwest and parts East and South were keeping a leery eye Friday on a band of foul weather stretching across the nation's midsection that was threatening to mar the opening weekend of one of the year's busiest travel periods.

Forecasters were predicting a stew of foul weekend weather, from freezing rain and snow in the north to torrential rain in the Ohio Valley and Appalachia and possibly even tornadoes in the South.

The worst of the storm wasn't expected to hit Midwest population centers until Saturday, and although few flights had been canceled as of midday Friday, the weather was already taking a toll on air travel: FlightStats.com reported more than 1,900 U.S. delays, with the most at Chicago's O'Hare, Denver International, and the three big New York-area airports.

The foul weather could cause headaches for the estimated 94.5 million Americans planning to travel by road or air during this holiday season, which runs from Saturday through New Year's Day. Concerns were similar a month ago, when a winter storm hit just as people were traveling for Thanksgiving.

Dennis Richmond, 72, said Friday that he was worried that snow could delay his son's Saturday flight from Washington, D.C., to Madison, Wis., which could get up to 8 inches of snow. He said he didn't tell his son to change his itinerary, though, because there were few alternatives, and that he still planned to drive the roughly 140 miles from La Crosse to pick him up.

"The thing is, trying to book another flight at this time of year is next to impossible," he said. "I just want to alert him to the fact he might be delayed."

While much of the East awoke to unusually warm temperatures on Friday, the storm was causing pre-Christmas travel worries from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York. In New England, communities were planning for a bit of everything — snow, sleet and rain — but were most concerned about the threat of freezing rain.

The National Weather Service predicted that parts of Maine could get more than a half-inch coating of ice, which would make roads treacherous and cause widespread power outages.

"The best advice for everyone is just to really pay attention. With every few hours, we're going to get better information," Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynnette Miller said Friday.

Freezing rain snarled traffic in Oklahoma on Friday. Police in Oklahoma City blamed at least one traffic death on the weather. Forecasters said up to a half-inch of ice could accumulate across the middle of the state, from the Texas border in the southwest to the Missouri border in the northeast.