Stormy weather makes Thanksgiving travel a slog

The common wisdom is that everything begins in California and then trends eastward. Add Thanksgiving weather to the list.

A storm that began in the West has worked its way through the South and Midwest and has become a wall of pain from the Carolinas northward through New York.


The poor weather threatened to make the day before Thanksgiving -- the busiest travel day of the year -- a mess while challenging such traditional activities as the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan with strong winds that may limit the usual large character balloons.

The National Weather Service was predicting high winds and large amounts of precipitation, either in rain or snow. Flood watches were in effect through the Midwest and East and moderate to heavy rain was falling over the Southeast and the mid-Atlantic regions on Wednesday. Snow was moving through the Ohio Valley to the Great Lakes region and into New England.

More than a foot of snow could hit parts of western Pennsylvania, western New York and Vermont before Thursday, as the storm worked its way through. Three to seven inches of snow had already fallen on parts of upstate New York and western Pennsylvania. Mercer, Pa., had 9.5 inches of snow, and Pittsburgh got three inches.

Since it left California, the storm has been blamed for 11 deaths.

More than 43 million people are expected to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. The overwhelming majority — about 39 million people — will be on the roads.

Both of those numbers are slight decreases from last year. The total travelers are down by 1.5% while auto travel is down by 1.6%, despite a drop in gasoline prices.

Air traffic, however, was expected to be up by 1.5%.

More than 3 million people are expected to move through key airports, including New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston and Charlotte, N.C.

There were no widespread problems early on Wednesday, but according to the Federal Aviation Administration, some airports in the East already had delays as incoming air traffic was being held up at other areas. Planes waiting to fly to LaGuardia Airport in New York sat on the ground for an hour or more because of strong winds, and flights headed for Philadelphia were delayed by two hours.

More than 200 flight cancellations were reported around the country.

In New York, organizers of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade kept an eye on the forecast for Thursday.

The rain will likely stop but there were predictions of wind of 15 to 22 mph, with gusts as high as 40. City rules bar the larger balloons if sustained winds are stronger than 23 mph or there are gusts in excess of 34 mph.