Thanksgiving travelers cast wary eye as storm packing snow, freezing rain, sleet heads east

  • Article by: DAVID WARREN , Associated Press
  • Updated: November 26, 2013 - 6:38 AM

DALLAS — A winter storm blamed for at least 11 fatal accidents in the West, Texas and Arkansas threatens to dampen the Thanksgiving holiday for millions of Americans traveling this week.

Nearly 300 American Airlines and American Eagle flights were canceled in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport on Monday due to the weather, spokeswoman Laura Masvidal said, mirroring disruptions at the air hub a day earlier. Some of the country's busiest airports — New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Charlotte, N.C. — could see big delays.

Icy roads led to hundreds of accidents and at least 11 deaths, half of them in Texas. On Monday, the storm brought a mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain to parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, southern Kansas and Texas. But as the storm continues east, there are fears of heavy rain along the busy Interstate 95 corridor and sleet, freezing rain and snow away from the coast and at higher elevations.

Tom Kines, a meteorologist with AccuWeather, said it will be "primarily a rain event" for the East Coast, with up to three inches of rain dousing travelers.

"The further inland you get — especially as you get into that higher terrain — you are going to deal with frozen precipitation," Kines said. Snow could fall in western Pennsylvania and the interior of New England. Up to 9 inches could blanket northern parts of West Virginia, where the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning from Tuesday morning through Wednesday afternoon.

Jeff Smidt is traveling Wednesday from his home in Toronto to visit his family in Andover, Mass., just outside Boston.

"My understanding is that I'm traveling at like the worst time ever," he said.

Smidt tried to get on an earlier flight but JetBlue told him it isn't waiving any change fees yet.

"I'm just hoping I also don't become a statistic during the holiday weekend," he said. "Worst comes to worst, it will be an eight-hour trek down Interstate 90."

Ninety percent of travelers this week will drive, according to AAA, and an estimated 38.9 million people — 1.6 percent fewer than last year — are expected to drive 50 miles or more from their home.

Gas is about 15 cents cheaper than last year, AAA said Monday, with a gallon of regular selling for $3.28.

The car-lobbying group and travel agency says Wednesday will be the busiest travel day, a forecast based on a formula that factors in consumer confidence, stock market performance, unemployment and a survey of 418 people that has a 6 percent margin of error.

Air travel will be busier and more expensive than usual this Thanksgiving.

This holiday will likely see the most air travelers since 2007, according to Airlines for America, the industry's trade and lobbying group, with the busiest day being Sunday, an estimated 2.56 million passengers. Wednesday is expected to be the second-busiest with 2.42 million passengers.

The average domestic airfare is up 9.5 percent from last Thanksgiving to $313, according to the Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets sold online and by traditional travel agencies.

Meanwhile, Amtrak prices in September — the most recent month for which data is available — were up more than 4 percent from last year.

Adding to the usual stress of holiday travel, though, is the weather that's ahead for much of the country. Already, the storm system dropped several inches of snow last week in New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma and West Texas.

In Arkansas, state police reported that a Franklin woman was killed Monday morning when she lost control of her car on an icy bridge over the Strawberry River in the north-central part of the state. Her car collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle, police said.

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