Major Storm Threatens Busiest Travel Weekend of the Year

Inclement weather was expected to impact travel across much of the U.S. ahead of the busiest air travel day of the year. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

As Thanksgiving week draws to a close, the severe weather that forced thousands of Americans to delay or cancel their holiday travel once again threatens to impact air travel and driving conditions, this time for millions of travelers heading home from the holidays.

With an estimated 31.6 million passengers flying during the 12-day period around Thanksgiving, Sunday has been forecast as the busiest day ever recorded for U.S. air travel, with industry trade group Airlines for America predicting 3.1 million passengers. That record might not be broken, however, as high winds, low visibility, ice and snow are likely to keep planes grounded across the country.

The winter storm that wrecked havoc out west on Thanksgiving Day has since moved east. As of Saturday at 8 a.m. CST, the National Weather Service had issued Winter Storm Warnings and Winter Weather Advisories for every county along the northern band of the Midwest, from western Montana and eastern Michigan, with the system reaching across the Great Lakes into Pennsylvania and New York. Meanwhile, flood and storm warnings extended south all the way to Texas and the Gulf Coast.

Travel interruptions were minimal at Midwestern hubs Saturday morning, with average delays under 15 minutes and only 18 out of over 3,000 flights canceled in the last 24 hours at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation. Air traffic was similarly smooth out of Detroit Metro Airport and Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, but those conditions were expected to change later in the day.

"North of the low, heavy snow is forecast to spread across the Northern/Central Plains and Upper Mississippi Valley today and tonight, ending there on Sunday. A large swath of snow totals from 6 to 12 inches are expected from the Northern Plains into Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Upper Michigan, and locally higher snow amounts above 18 inches are possible," the National Weather Service's Weather Prediction Center reported early Saturday. "High winds are expected, and Blizzard Warnings are in effect for parts of the Northern/Central Plains. Dangerous conditions will make travel almost impossible. High Wind Warnings and Wind Advisories are in effect for the Central/Southern Plains, south of the snow impacts."

Blizzard Warnings are in effect into Sunday morning across a portion of the northern High Plains and the west end of Lake Superior. Interstates 90 and 35 pass through these areas. Travel could be very difficult. Widespread blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility.

— National Weather Service (@NWS) November 30, 2019

As the storm system moved onto the East Coast Sunday, the National Weather Service predicted another round of nor'easters:

"Freezing rain will be the initial threat for portions of Pennsylvania and New York, as well as the Central Appalachians...Snowfall amounts in the Northeast are currently forecast to be 4 to 8 inches from parts of New York, southern Vermont and New Hampshire, and Massachusetts through Sunday night, with more expected on Monday. Travel impacts can be expected on this busy travel weekend."

Meanwhile, a new storm system forming over California threatened to cause flooding at lower elevations and heavy snowfall in higher areas. Icy road conditions leading to vehicle spin-outs previously caused over 100 miles of highway closures along Route 5 in Northern California, while heavy snow and ice forced one Arizona town to declare a state of emergency earlier in the week, The Weather Channel reported.

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BLOOMINGTON, MN - NOVEMBER 27: A plane takes off at through Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after a blizzard struck overnight on November 27, 2019 in Bloomington, Minnesota. Snowfalls neared 12 inches in parts of the state on one of the busiest travel days of the year. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/Getty