November 27, 2013

Disruption, but no gridlock from wet, windy storms on East Coast

Flight delays and cancellations are limited to the region, mostly affecting Newark, N.J., Philadelphia and New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

By Michelle R. Smith and Jason Keyser
The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A wet and blustery storm along the East Coast made driving hazardous and tangled up hundreds of flights Wednesday but didn’t cause the all-out gridlock many Thanksgiving travelers had feared.

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A couple rest their feet on their luggage while waiting for their flight to return home to Germany at Newark Liberty International Airport on Wednesday in Newark, N.J. East Coast travel delays didn’t cause a major ripple effect for the rest of the nation.

The Associated Press

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Rashad Simmons of Tampa naps while waiting for his flight at Tampa International Airport on Tuesday in Tampa, Fla. Travelers are facing delays due to winter storms in other areas of the country.

The Associated Press

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Many travelers marveled at how orderly and anxiety-free the airports were during what is typically one of the busiest days of the year.

One big question lingered in New York: Will high winds ground Snoopy and the other giant cartoon-character balloons at the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving Day?

The storm for the most part unleashed wind-driven rain along the Northeast’s heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor from Richmond, Va., to the tip of Maine.

Emerging from the weather gantlet was Katie Fleisher, who made it by car from Portsmouth, N.H., through rain and fog to Boston’s Logan Airport with little trouble and discovered to her amazement that the panicked, cranky crowds she expected were nonexistent.

“We thought it would be busier here. But there’ve been no lines, and it has been really quiet all morning,” said Fleisher, whose plan was to fly to Pittsburgh.

“Our flight is still on time, but we are checking the app every couple minutes,” she said. “We are nervous, as we are traveling with two 1-year-olds, and any extra time on a plane would be horrible.”

The storm was expected to drop around 6 inches of snow in parts of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania and up to a foot in a pocket of upstate New York.

Damaging winds gusting up to 60 mph were expected to rip through Boston and other coastal areas.

Those winds could prevent the giant balloons from taking flight this year at the Macy’s parade. Safety rules that specify wind speeds were enacted in New York after a spectator was killed in 1997 in an accident involving an out-of-control balloon.

Flight cancellations piled up at East Coast hubs. By midday Wednesday, around 250 flights had been canceled, according to the tracking website FlightAware.com.

But that was a tiny fraction of the nearly 32,000 flights that were scheduled to, from or within the U.S. on Wednesday, the site said. And the weather in many places was improving as the day wore on.

Most of the cancellations involved Newark, N.J., Philadelphia and New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

The longest delays affected Philadelphia-bound flights, which were being held at their points of origin for an average of about two hours because of the weather, according to the website.

The Philadelphia area was under a flood watch, with 2 to 3 inches of rain forecast before falling temperatures turn precipitation to snow.

Roads there were snarled. A deadly multivehicle crash that authorities said happened when a car hit standing water and spun out of control closed the westbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway for a while, and the eastbound lanes were shut down for several hours because of flooding.

At a rest stop on I-95 outside Boston, a Vermont family traveling to Sharon, Mass., was relieved that the roads were not that congested – and the weather didn’t prove to be too much trouble, either.

“We didn’t think we were going to get out today because of freezing rain, but it has been great,” said Liz Kleinberg.

The storm, which developed in the West over the weekend, has been blamed for at least 11 deaths, five of them in Texas.

But as it moved east, it wasn’t as bad as feared.

“This is a fairly typical storm for this time of year,” said Chris Vaccaro of the National Weather Service. “Obviously, it’s ill-timed because you have a lot of rain and snowfall in areas where people are trying to move around town or fly or drive out of town. ... But fortunately, we’re at this point going to start seeing a steady improvement in conditions across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.”

More than 43 million people are expected to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. About 39 million of those will be on the roads, while more than 3 million people are expected to fly.

Travelers had some things to be thankful for this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration last month lifted restrictions on most personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, and some airlines, including American, have already begun allowing passengers to stay powered up from gate to gate.

And on the ground, gas prices dipped to an average of $3.29 a gallon.

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