Thanksgiving storm travel disruptions: Not as bad as feared

Many expressed relief when the challenges of traveling the day before the Thanksgiving holiday were milder than predicted. High winds on Thursday, however, might disappoint some New York City parade watchers. 

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Holiday travelers scurry to Amtrak’s Union Station as a wet and blustery storm along the East Coast disrupted flights and tied up some roads on Wednesday. Travel plans were not as snarled as had been predicted, however.

A wet and blustery storm along the East Coast made driving hazardous and tangled up hundreds of flights Wednesday in the middle of the Thanksgiving travel frenzy but didn't cause the all-out gridlock many had feared.

Many travelers marveled at how orderly and anxiety-free the airports were during what is typically one of the busiest days of the year.

One big question lingered in New York: Will high winds ground Snoopy and the other giant cartoon-character balloons at the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving Day?

The storm for the most part unleashed wind-driven rain along the Northeast's heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor from Richmond, Va., to the tip of Maine.

Emerging from the weather gantlet was Katie Fleisher, who made it by car from Portsmouth, N.H., through rain and fog to Boston's Logan Airport with little trouble and discovered to her amazement that the panicked, cranky crowds she expected were nonexistent.

"We thought it would be busier here. But there've been no lines, and it has been really quiet all morning," said Fleisher, whose plan was to fly to Pittsburgh.

"Our flight is still on time, but we are checking the app every couple minutes," she said. "We are nervous, as we are traveling with two 1-year-olds, and any extra time on a plane would be horrible."

The storm was expected to heap around 6 inches of snow onto parts of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania and up to a foot in a pocket of upstate New York.

On Wednesday, damaging winds gusting up to 60 mph are expected to rip through Boston and other coastal areas.

Safety rules enacted in New York after a spectator was killed in 1997 in an accident involving a windblown balloon could prevent the giant inflatables from taking flight this year at the Macy's parade.

Flight cancellations piled up at East Coast hubs. By midday Wednesday, around 250 flights to, from or within the U.S. had been canceled, according to the tracking website FlightAware.com. But that was a small fraction of the thousands of planes airborne over the U.S. at any given moment.

Most of the cancellations involved Newark, N.J., Philadelphia and New York's LaGuardia Airport.

The longest delays affected Philadelphia-bound flights, which were being held at their points of origin for an average of about two hours because of the weather, according to the website.

The Philadelphia area was under a flood watch, with 2 to 3 inches of rain forecast before falling temperatures turn precipitation to snow.

Roads there were snarled. A multi-vehicle crash closed the westbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway for a while, and the eastbound lanes were closed temporarily because of flooding.

The storm, which developed in the West over the weekend, has been blamed for at least 11 deaths, five of them in Texas.

But as it moved east, it wasn't as bad as feared.

"This is a fairly typical storm for this time of year," said Chris Vaccaro of the National Weather Service. "Obviously, it's ill-timed because you have a lot of rain and snowfall in areas where people are trying to move around town or fly or drive out of town. ... But fortunately, we're at this point going to start seeing a steady improvement in conditions across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast."

More than 43 million people are expected to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. About 39 million of those will be on the roads, while more than 3 million people are expected to fly.

Travelers had some things to be thankful for this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration last month lifted restrictions on most personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, and some airlines, including American, have already begun allowing passengers to stay powered up from gate to gate.

And on the ground, gas prices dipped to an average of $3.29 a gallon.

Keyser reported from Chicago. Associated Press Writers Tracee Herbaugh in Boston, Don Babwin in Chicago, and Kristi Eaton in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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