Christmas forecast: Severe weather threatens to snarl holiday travel

A strong storm system could drop rain along the East Coast and snow from Missouri to Michigan on Christmas Eve, say meteorologists.

Weather Underground / NOAA / AP
This NOAA satellite image, taken Tuesday, December 23, at 12:45 PM EST, shows most of the east underneath clouds. This is due to a large developing storm system in the Midwest currently causing widespread snows from the Central Plain states into the Northern Great Lakes. On the other side of storm is a flow of warm moist air covering most of the East, producing areas of rain from the Gulf Coast to New England. The Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida is experiencing thunderstorms with isolated areas of severe weather.

A wintry mix of Gulf Coast thunderstorms expected to travel north, predicted snowfall in the Great Lakes and blustery conditions in the nation's midsection threatened Tuesday to snag holiday travel plans nationwide.

While snow fell in some Midwestern states Tuesday — nearly 2 feet in South Dakota's Black Hills — a strong storm system expected to drop rain along the East Coast and snow from Missouri to Michigan developed in Mississippi, Georgia and Louisiana, among other southern states. The severe storms in the South killed at least four people, damaged homes, businesses and cars, and knocked out power to thousands.

Meteorologists predicted rain-into-snow for parts of the Great Lakes region, with several inches of Christmas Eve snow expected in portions of Illinois. Officials at both airport hubs in the nation's third-largest city readied for the potential of holiday delays and cancellations, particularly with more people expected to fly this year.

"I'd be nervous about the possibility of not being able to get out," said Chicago area meteorologist Charles Mott. "I would definitely make plans about possibly staying put or doing something else."

About 4.2 million passengers are expected through O'Hare and Midway international airports during an 18-day holiday travel period ending Jan. 6, said Chicago Aviation Department spokeswoman Karen Pride. That would be a 3 percent increase at O'Hare and a 9 percent jump at Midway compared to last year. Pride urged travelers to allow plenty of time and monitor airlines closely.

Elsewhere, a blast of cold and snowy conditions affected travel Tuesday.

Dozens of flights in and out of Philadelphia International Airport were canceled and others saw delays of about two hours due to bad weather and low clouds.

Just west of Green Bay, Wisconsin, a school bus was involved in three-vehicle crash on snow-covered, slick roads. No serious injuries were reported.

In eastern Colorado, Interstate 70 was shut down into Kansas because of strong winds and blowing snow.

Parts of western South Dakota saw snow accumulations of a foot or more through Tuesday morning. Higher elevations in the Black Hills got close to 2 feet.

But not all winter enthusiasts were so lucky.

Snow isn't expected in other parts of South Dakota until Friday. Sioux Falls resident Alana Amdahl said she's disappointed about the lack of snow projected for Christmas.

"We live in South Dakota for a reason," said Amdahl, 27. "We don't have palm trees to put Christmas lights on, we have evergreens. Of course, we need snow. It can melt after the new year."

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Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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Associated Press writers Regina Garcia Cano in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Colleen Slevin in Denver; and Michael Sisak in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

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