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Early gift to Christmas travelers: Winter storm weakens

#SantaBomb is mostly a dud as winter storm weakens; travelers are largely spared expected headaches

Travelers got an early Christmas present from Mother Nature on Wednesday when a cold front that forecasters feared could have dumped up to 6 inches of snow over Chicago’s airports moved farther east and waned as temperatures rose.

Air travel across the nation did not encounter serious problems Wednesday, but not everyone has dodged the wintry weather bullet: a Christmas Day snowstorm is expected to dump 4 to 7 inches of snow in several Rocky Mountain states and may cause delays at Denver International Airport.

Earlier in the week forecasters had predicted major headaches for travelers on Christmas Eve.

The Weather Network meteorologists warned a system was expected to have a significant effect on travel, and the hashtag #SantaBomb, in reference to the ill-timed weather system, was trending on social media.

“If anything even came close to what was advertised, we would have had big problems,” said National Weather Service meteorologist David Beachler in Chicago.

Instead, weather forecasters and airport officials said the storm may cause delays, but they do not expect it to have a major effect on national air travel.

The snow is expected to continue through Friday afternoon, National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Koopmeiners said.

“It is going to be a pretty good snowstorm,” he said. “But the [Denver] airport is pretty fierce. We have got amazing equipment.”

The Denver airport will have a light travel day Thursday, with 1,255 flights and 130,000 passengers coming in and out of the facility, compared with 1,550 flights and 145,000 passengers on a typical day, airport spokeswoman Laura Coale said. The majority of flights will be out of the airport by 6 p.m. Thursday, when heavy snowfall is expected to begin, she said.

Coale said the Denver airport will be fully staffed for the storm and can clear a 16,000-foot runway of snow in 15 minutes.

The storm will pose more of a problem Friday when 1,600 flights and 163,000 passengers are expected in the airport, she said.

Still, Coale said Federal Aviation Administration officials do not expect the storm to have an effect on national travel patterns.

The storm that missed Chicago will instead head to central Michigan, which will see a sprinkling of 1 to 2 inches of snow overnight and into Christmas morning, according to the National Weather Service.

The snow and rain is not expected to cause major travel delays there,  meteorologist Bryan Tilley said.

On Wednesday, travel delays were manageable. Flights at Newark International Airport were delayed an average of 45 minutes because of rain and wind in the afternoon, and flights out of San Francisco were temporarily delayed because of fog. 

At Philadelphia International Airport, flights were delayed for an average of nearly two hours Wednesday because of ground traffic, not the weather, according to the FAA.

Thunderstorms were causing delays of 16 to 30 minutes at Tampa International Airport, according to the FAA. The Weather Service told residents to watch out for thunderstorms in the Southeast.

Two tornadoes struck outside Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday and killed four people, Jones County Emergency Management Director Marda Tullos said.

A man and a woman were killed when a twister struck their mobile home, she said. A woman working at a beauty salon was killed when a wall fell on her, she said. Tullos did not have information on the fourth victim.

Twitter: @jpanzar

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