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Winter storm snarls Thanksgiving travel plans

It’s one of the busiest holiday travel days, and it may also end up being the messiest.

A winter storm is making its way up the East Coast and causing air travel delays all over the country.

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A very busy travel day comes to a close, and it was much smoother sailing than expected for most.

On the expressways, holiday traffic varied Wednesday night, from typically gridlocked to surprisingly clear sailing. But don’t count on that, especially if you’re headed to either of our airports because heavy weather out east could change a flight pretty fast.

“It’s good…until now. I hope it doesn’t get cancelled ’cause I don’t want to stay here,” said air traveler Anarosy Torres

train would have been a good option Wednesday. Amtrak was running like a top.

The roads in northwest Indiana, less so. They’ve been slick and snow-covered since Wednesday morning. Salt trucks were out overnight in Michigan City. There were much heavier accumulations to the north and east, leaving some motorists questioning whether they should really be giving thanks at all.

“We’ll just have to wait and see, ya know, on the conditions of the roads,” said Clarence Syers of Michigan City, Ind.

“Just take your time,” said Eric Walker of Michigan City. “Wake up early.”

And that’s doubly good advice if you’re planning to get on a plane Thursday, no matter where you’re going.

“Make sure that you have your airline or wherever you booked through, whether it’s Orbitz or another website or another customer service number, programmed into your phone,” said Jeanenne Tornatore with Orbitz.

Like Thanksgiving, it’s almost a holiday tradition. Bad weather and hordes of travelers teaming up to send the country’s transportation capacities reeling.

It’s whirling again this week, with 43 million Americans en route. And though it might not be too bad this year, a messy storm is soaking, slushing and snowing up the eastern United States and causing flight delays.

holidaytravelairportscancelPlanes

The storm bumped more than 6,000 flights off schedule and forced 271 cancellations Tuesday. Early Wednesday morning, 95 flight cancellations remained.

That has made for some inconvenience but not exactly chaos — so far.

“I was very happy I booked the day I did,” said passenger Harold Rothman. “Because if I booked tomorrow, I’d probably be delayed.”

FOR THE LATEST WEATHER UPDATES, GO TO CHICAGO WEATHER CENTER

Late Tuesday, groups of planes, unable to land at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International because of weather delays, circled in wait of a free runway.

With 678 airborne latecomers, the country’s busiest airport had the biggest slowdown. On average, passengers had to add almost an hour.

A low-hanging blanket of clouds along with rapidly shifting winds were all it took to throw a wrench.

New York and Washington had pesky delays Tuesday. But the really wintry weather was headed their way early Wednesday. It will be a strong storm, possibly a Nor’easter, with driving, cold, wet winds.

“Let’s face it: With 80% of our airplanes touching the congested Northeast, we’re acutely aware that things can go wrong relatively quickly,” said JetBlue COO Rob Maruster to CNN Affiliate WCBS.

If flight delays and cancellations pile up, it could cause a chain reaction throughout the country, as connecting flights outside the Northeast wait for arrivals coming from the stormy region.

Trains

Going to the Northeast and want to avoid the mess? Take the train. Amtrak has reported no delays so far.

Using the weather as a marketing tool, the nation’s rail system is running a Thanksgiving special and adding seats on some routes.

“Rail travel remains one of the most reliable and comfortable transportation options, especially in weather conditions that negatively impact other modes,” Amtrak said.

There may be something to that.

“QUIET CAR. Window seat. Polite seatmate. I have hit the Amtrak travel trifecta. #blessed,” tweeted Ellie Hall early Wednesday morning.

Automobiles

Road conditions probably won’t be great, if you’re driving into one of the coastal metropolises in the Northeast.

The abominable snowman shouldn’t make it into town, but he was already messing up the areas just to the west of them late Tuesday.

“It’s sleet; it’s rain; it’s 31 degrees. It’s ugly out there,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

He expected large parts of Pennsylvania and beyond to freeze up early Wednesday. That should make for dangerous road conditions.

Last week, 12 people died, mostly in car crashes, when one of the fronts making up the current storm iced up roads from the Rockies to Texas and Oklahoma. Over 100 vehicles ended up in wrecks.

“I get on the highway and the next thing I know I’m spinning,” said Seqret Watson, among the dozens of drivers in northwest Arkansas sent sliding when their cars hit icy bridges and roads.

“I try to grab my wheel and then I just hit the wall. Just jumped out to make sure my kids were okay,” Watson told affiliate KFSM.

The Peterson famly planned on driving from Northern Virginia to Massachusetts. But after seeing the forecast, they changed their minds. They got a last-minute flight instead.

“It was a small fortune,” Jennifer Peterson told CNN affiliate WUSA. “We could’ve gone to the Bahamas for what we paid!”

By Ben Brumfield, CNN

CNN’s Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

 TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Northwest Indiana and Michigan might get a bushel of snow as a storm rumbles toward the East Coast Tuesday.

It’s all hampering holiday travel for thousands, including many here in the Chicago area.

Just as the snow began to fall outside O’Hare Airport Tuesday night, the holiday spirit inside was on its way up.

“I was a little concerned yesterday when it was starting to snow, but I think will get out OK,” said Hollia Pickett.

Hollia Pickett was one of the thousands here early, fearing an East Coast winter storm would ground their Thanksgiving plans. They were lucky.

“We’re very happy. Because as much as we love O’Hare like not to spend Thanksgiving here,” one traveller said.

“The two days before thanksgiving are at least in the top 10 busiest days of the year,” said Brett Anderson with Travelocity.

More than 25 million Americans are expected to fly Tuesday and Wednesday, even without weather, delays will happen.

Some, passing their time at O’Hare, waiting for those from the East Coast to arrive like Ayla Embil’s son, who’s in Rochester, NY.

“He just left as the snow was hitting, but he got on a plane and he got out,” she said.

Travelocity says one way you can stay ahead of delays is by checking in early.  That can get you a leg up if your flight gets canceled, and you are rebooked onto a new flight.

Helpful links:

Weather updates: ChicagoWeatherCenter.com

Traffic updates: wgntv.com/traffic

The nasty weather tantrum that has already left a mess on its march from California through Texas and soaked the South is now expected to ice up roads in the Northeast.

So if your spouse is mad that you put off making Thanksgiving travel plans, you can respond that you may have actually done your family a favor.

The whole family may be glad you stayed at home, as a wintry storm threatens to upend the best-laid plans.

“All of these interstates, all of these roads across Pennsylvania — the Thruway, the Turnpike, 80, 90, 66 — they all will have ice and snow,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

If you’re driving …

Snowmageddon won’t hit any of the major cities. And it may only rain on the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

But west of the Big Apple, and around Philadelphia and Boston, the wicked weather will pile snow onto roadways, just as far-flung relatives are zipping in to town.

AAA projects that 38.9 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday.

Drive carefully.

The storm has already left more than 100 wrecks and claimed at least 12 lives.

On Saturday, Willie Nelson’s concert tour bus slid off a road in Texas and struck an embankment, sending three band members to the hospital. The 80-year-old singer was not on board.

If you’re flying …

With an estimated 3.14 million Americans taking to the skies this week to eat turkey with loved ones, planes will be as stuffed as bellies.

Passengers on nearly 500 flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had to find alternate routes when the storm iced the area over the weekend.

The outlook, however, was positively rosy early Tuesday morning. None of the major airlines had cancellations planned.

“We decided to leave early, and we’re just going to keep our fingers crossed,” said Beth Hundley, who was taking a flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Des Moines, Iowa.

But the snowy weather has yet to hit its target. It should finish icing up New England by Friday.

“The issue they run into is if you cancel one flight, there may not be capacity on the later flights to accommodate all the displaced passengers,” said Daniel Baker, who runs flight tracking website FlightAware.com.

The weather may put a further dent in the trip home, as winds rev up to 40 miles per hour as the holiday wraps up, Myers said.

It could make flying harder and cause some of you to miss work Monday.

And then you’ll have to deal with an angry boss.

By Ben Brumfield, CNN

CNN’s Dave Alsup, Rene Marsh and Holly Yan contributed to his report.

 TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Be sure to check the forecast before you head out:

ChicagoWeatherCenter.com

wgntv.com/traffic

City salt trucks filled up at Grand and Rockwell Monday night.

At 2 p.m., only 10 trucks were needed. By 7 p.m., it was up to 75.  Trucks paid close attention to overpasses, side streets and Lake Shore Drive.

Thanksgiving travel is off to a rocky start across the country.

With flooding in Phoenix, ice in Dallas and freezing rain moving towards the Eastern Seabord.

Be sure to check the forecast before you head out:

ChicagoWeatherCenter.com

wgntv.com/traffic

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