Wet, not white, Christmas Eve spawns travel mess

NEW YORK — Christmas Eve is shaping up to be windy, wet and warm instead of white across much of the country, creating headaches for some travelers, especially in the Great Lakes and the Northeast.

While parts of the South cleaned up from severe storms that killed at least four people, a system that forecasters had feared could bring several inches of snow to Illinois, including the air travel hub of Chicago, was expected to track farther east.

Still, by early Wednesday afternoon, more than 280 flights had been canceled and more than 1,700 delayed in the U.S., according to flight tracking service FlightAware. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was hardest hit, accounting for 93 of the cancellations.

CBS News correspondent Jericka Duncan reportsthat there were not many major delays at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, but passengers who arrived early were happy they did. It’s estimated that 70 percent of delays in the U.S. emanate from New York so when flights are canceled or delayed there, Americans all over feel the impact.

Several inches of slushy snow was still possible in the afternoon, mainly in areas southeast of Chicago along the Indiana state line and in far western Illinois. That was similar to the forecast for Indiana, where the National Weather Service said 2 to 4 inches of snow could leave untreated roads and bridges slick.

Holiday travelers in Ohio, Michigan and New York faced the prospect of windy weather. A high wind warning was issued from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning for much of northern Ohio. Meteorologists warned that gusts of 65 mph in western New York could blow away holiday decorations.

In Michigan, utility companies braced for extremely strong winds a year after a storm put thousands of people in the dark at Christmas. The weather service said the strongest winds are expected at night and would last nearly until dawn on Christmas Day.

Crews are on standby Wednesday in anticipation of gusts of 45 mph or higher in the Detroit area, said DTE Energy spokeswoman Randi Berris.

A light but steady rain fell Wednesday along much of the East Coast.

Temperatures topped 50 degrees Wednesday morning in some areas of western New York.

In northern New Jersey, forecasters warned thunderstorms could boom as temperatures head toward 60. A coastal flood advisory was in effect, and fog was predicted in the northern part of the state.

Still, some parts of the country were welcoming bona fide snow in time for Christmas.

Five to 10 inches was forecast in mountain passes and up to 3 inches on valley floors in Nevada’s Sierras. And mountainous areas of Washington expected 3 to 5 inches to fall Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a blizzard warning is in effect for the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Power companies struggled to restore electricity to thousands of people in Mississippi after severe weather killed at least four people, injured about 50, and damaged or destroyed an unknown number of homes and businesses.

In south Georgia, more than 50 counties were under a tornado watch as thunderstorms continued in many parts of the state.

In eastern Colorado, Interstate 70 was shut down into Kansas for eight hours 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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