Winter storm causes hazardous holiday travel

Weather

(NewsNation) — A major winter storm continues to threaten more than 130 million Americans across 30 states this week, forecast to bring heavy snow, ice, flooding and even tornadoes Thursday to Saturday from the Plains and Midwest to the East Coast.

A surge of arctic air will follow, and the Christmas weekend could be the coldest in decades.

The storm is already causing major travel disruptions for holiday travelers. As of 10 a.m. CT, there have been over 1,500 domestic flight delays and 267 domestic flight cancellations in the U.S., according to FlightAware.

An early sign of trouble came Tuesday in Seattle, where a winter storm caused 221 flight cancellations and just over 500 delayed flights at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, according to FlightAware. Greyhound also canceled bus service between Seattle and Spokane.

Airlines offered travelers the option of choosing new flights to avoid the bad weather. Delta, American, United and Southwest waived change fees at airports that might be affected.

Airports said they would work hard to stay open. Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports said they have 350 pieces of equipment and 400,000 gallons of pavement de-icing fluid between them to keep runways and taxiways clear.

“Unfortunately, mother nature is dealing us a pretty ugly hand right before Christmas,” said Clint Henderson, managing editor of The Points Guy website.

At O’Hare, multiple travelers were trying to get out ahead of the storm.

“I’ve been getting so many messages. I feel lucky I am leaving today and skipping the storm,” one traveler said.

“We left our trip two days early to make it home for Christmas,” another said.

According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), 2022 is anticipated to be the third busiest year for holiday travel since AAA began tracking in 2000.

AAA estimates that nearly 113 million Americans plan to travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2 — an increase of 3.6 million people over last year and closing in on pre-pandemic numbers. Plus, 102 million Americans are expected to drive to their holiday destinations as gas prices are on track to drop below $3 per gallon by Christmas.

Sgt. Alex Dinkla of the Iowa State Patrol encouraged people to adjust their travel plans if possible.

“It’s going to put people at extreme risk,” Dinkla said.

For those who need to travel on Thursday and Friday, he urged taking it slow and patient.

“People are not even going to be able travel 15 mph,” Dinkla said. “Slow down, plan accordingly and just plain and simple get to that destination safely.”

The heaviest snow is expected in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to the National Weather Service, and frigid winds will be fierce across the country’s midsection.

Several inches of snow were expected from Chicago through the Great Lakes region by Friday. Snow also was forecast in the lower Midwest.

The deep freeze will be particularly dangerous for people without homes. Salt Lake City will make 95 additional shelter beds available after five died in recent days amid sub-freezing temperatures, Mayor Erin Mendenhall, a Democrat, said.

In Kansas City, Missouri, emergency shelters are opening for anyone needing warmth, food or safety. Organizers warn, though, that capacity is limited overnight.

Meteorologists are warning people to stay off the roads as this storm could cause road closures, icy and snowy conditions as well as low visibility across the country.

In Oregon, one person died Tuesday after a semi-truck collided with an SUV. Police said a thin layer of ice on the highway may have been a contributing factor.

Whether designated to hit your town or not, NewsNation has compiled a list of tips from trusted officials on how best to prepare your home for a winter storm this cold season and the ones ahead. You can find that list here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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