New round of bad weather may disrupt holiday travel

9:23 PM, Dec 25, 2012   |    comments
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By Natalie DiBlasio, USA TODAY

Returning Wednesday from Christmas celebrations could be a tough, slippery or delayed ride for travelers in many parts of the country.

A major winter storm carrying snow, sleet and freezing rain was forecast to move across the Midwest overnight and continue into the upper Midwest, Upstate New York and parts of New England on Wednesday, according to AccuWeather.

Meanwhile, the forecasting service says, tornadoes, thunderstorms and damaging winds that struck Tuesday along the Gulf Coast will move into the Carolinas and into parts of Georgia and Florida on Wednesday.

The bad weather threatens to snarl traffic on highways in the Midwest and Northeast and lead to major flight delays and cancellations on one of the heaviest travel days of the year.

"Travel is going to get rough," says Marshall Moss, vice president of forecasting at AccuWeather.

A blizzard warning late Tuesday stretched across northeastern Arkansas, southeastern Missouri, southwestern Indiana, western Kentucky and southern Illinois amid predictions of from 6 to 12 inches of snow by Wednesday morning, says Marshall Moss, vice president of forecasting at AccuWeather.

Some areas of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could get up to 12 inches of snow, making travel "very hazardous or impossible" in the northern tier of the state from near-whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service says.

Snow and ice pose dangers for many of the 84.4 million people that auto club AAA estimated hit the road for Christmas holiday trips of at least 50 miles.

It won't be much better for many air travelers seeking to get home.

"It will be a horrific day for travel in Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh," AccuWeather meteorologist Mark Paquette warns.

"There will be major problems, major delays for airports."

Major airlines, including US Airways, Delta, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, told passengers late Tuesday they could re-book their flights over the next couple of days without having to pay a penalty fee.

Airlines had estimated that 42 million passengers would be flying this Christmas and New Year's holiday.

The strange mix of winter weather - tornadoes, snow, freezing rain and high winds - began making havoc early on Christmas Day.

  • More than 360 flights nationwide were canceled and more than 2,970 delayed as of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to the flight tracker Most were out of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
  • Icy roads were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, where the state's Department of Transportation warned travelers to stay home. In New Mexico, drivers across the eastern Plains had to fight through snow, ice and low visibility.
  • At least three tornadoes were confirmed in Texas. The Harris County Sheriff's Office near Houston said a 25-year-old man died after strong storms knocked a tree onto his pickup truck.

"You don't want to mess around with tornadoes," Paquette says. "Anytime you have a storm that is creating tornadoes and snow at the same time is a big deal."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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