A massive winter storm snarled Christmas travel across much of the central US as freezing rain and heavy snow grounded flights and made driving treacherous.
“There’s just a humongous storm moving across the center of the country, basically from the Canadian border to Texas and spreading from west Colorado to Illinois,” National Weather Service spokesman Pat Slattery said. “Christmas travel is going to be very difficult.”
The northern parts of the storm were expected to drop up to 60cm of snow while flood warnings were issued along the southern portion of the storm.
A tornado was also spotted touching down in Texas.
“We would recommend that people if at all possible postpone their travel plans just to be on the safe side,” Slattery said in a telephone interview. “This is not a storm to be messed with.”
Freezing rain will make driving extremely dangerous — especially after dark when the rain turns to ice — and high winds will dramatically reduce visibility, Slattery said. “If they can wait a couple days, the snow will be there, but it won’t be blowing sideways anymore.”
More than 260 flights were canceled at Chicago airports on Wednesday due to icy conditions and heavy, wet snow and sleet.
Train service was also interrupted for three hours at New York’s Penn Station due to a power outage which disrupted travel from Niagara Falls to Washington. Teacher Elana Hiller managed to get home to Chicago from Minneapolis, but only after heading into the airport eight hours early to switch to a morning flight.
“The airports were crazy,” she told rporters. “The lineups at security were going all the way down from one end of the terminal to another.”
United Airlines said it is doing its best to make sure people manage to get home for the holidays.
“We’re trying to stay ahead of the storm rather than behind it,” spokeswoman Sarah Massier said. “We knew it’s a holiday and it’s very important for these customers to be home for the holidays.”
The airline — like most of its competitors — will automatically rebook passengers on the next available flight following a cancellation and try to get in touch by phone or e-mail to help people plan ahead.
But with flights already heavily booked for one of the busiest travel days of the year, painful delays and disappointment appears inevitable. The governor of South Dakota issued a state of emergency and urged residents to stay off the roads after the weather service warned of a “life-threatening storm” that would not clear up until today.
“If you can leave ahead of the storm and get where you are going, great,” South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds said on Tuesday before the storm hit.
“If you can’t, it’s better to be safe than stranded somewhere. The best gift to give your loved ones is to be safe,” he said.
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