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A powerful winter storm could cause travel disruptions across the U.S. holidays

A powerful winter storm could cause travel disruptions across the U.S. holidays

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Worries about disease or inflation are not stopping the americans from hitting the roads and airports this holiday season. But a a massive winter storm could, could.

Forecasters I predict an onslaught of heavy snow, ice, flooding and high winds Thursday through Saturday across a wide swath of the country, from the Plains and Midwest to the East Coast. A rush of arctic air will follow. The Christmas weekend could turn out to be the coldest in decades.

The National Weather Service said Wednesday that the storm was so large and pervasive that about 190 million people are currently under some type of winter weather warning.

In Cheyenne, Wyoming, a a new record was set when the temperature dropped 40 degrees in just 30 minutes, according to the weather service.

Minnesota cities including Minneapolis and Saint Paul, have declared a state of emergency due to snow. On the East Coast, an NHL game between the Buffalo Sabers and the Tampa Bay Lightning was scheduled for upstate New York’s Keybank Center on December 23 was postponed.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, announced it will close at 6 p.m. Thursday due to the approaching storm and will remain closed at least through Friday.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced A state of emergency was declared for 77 counties on Wednesday ahead of the storm, tweeting that Oklahomans should “stay inside, check on your neighbors and stay safe.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott held a press conference Wednesday to discuss how the state plans to deal with the bitter cold. In February 2021 winter storm knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of Texans for days. This power outage was subsequently blamed more than 200 deaths.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Tuesday also signed an executive order in preparation for the storm.

According to CBS Colorado, the city of Denver was developing a plan to ensure the more than 1,300 migrants who have arrived in the city since Dec. 9 have a safe haven from the cold. CBS Colorado reported that many of them came from warm climates such as Venezuela and Nicaragua and did not have warm clothing.

Southwest Airlines said it had canceled 500 of its 4,000 scheduled flights for Thursday and Friday. The company said it wants to maintain safe operations for both passengers and crew.

At least 145 flights to or from Denver International Airport were canceled Wednesday as the city was battered by snow, gusty winds and sub-zero temperatures, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking company. At least 219 flights to or from Denver are expected to be canceled Thursday.

FlightAware also expected at least 364 flights to be canceled Thursday at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports. Earlier this week, those two airports said they had 350 units of snow removal equipment and 400,000 gallons of deicing fluid for the storm.

Delta, American, United, Frontier, Alaska, Southwest and other airlines waived change fees and offers passengers the opportunity to choose new flights to avoid bad weather.

A winter storm is shaking up the busy US travel season with cold and snow
A worker stands next to Alaska Airlines planes during a snowstorm at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington on December 20, 2022.

David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Jean-Paul Blank arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport a day early for his flight Thursday to New Orleans. Blank had to take a bus to Logan from his seasonal job in New Hampshire and was unsure of the storm’s path.

“I hope my flight doesn’t get canceled because I don’t know what to do,” Blank said.

Bianca Thrasher-Starobin, a consultant and lobbyist in Atlanta, flew into New York Wednesday morning for an event and plans to fly out that evening.

“I’m trying to get out of this time. I would have stayed longer, but I just can’t take that risk,” she said as she raced through La Guardia Airport.

Bus and train travelers were also bracing for cancellations and delays.


A flash freeze after rain, snow is expected to affect travel

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As of late Wednesday, Amtrak had canceled train service on about 30 routes, some through Dec. 25. Greyhound canceled bus service on 25 routes for Wednesday and Thursday, including service from Las Vegas to Denver, Denver to St. Louis and Chicago to Minneapolis, Memphis and Nashville.

The weather added uncertainty to what was expected to be a busy travel season. Earlier this month, AAA estimated that nearly 113 million people will travel 50 miles from home or more between December 23rd and January 2nd. That’s up 4% from last year, though still below 2019’s record 119 million.

Most plan to travel by car. About 6 percent will travel by air, AAA said. Either way, many travelers found themselves hastily changing their itineraries.

Joel Luster originally planned to drive from Bloomington, Indiana, to McGregor, Iowa, on Thursday. But he shifted his work schedule and his wife canceled a date so they could leave on Wednesday and ride out the storm.

In Montana, several ski areas announced closures Wednesday and Thursday due to extremely cold temperatures and persistent winds. Others scaled back the offerings. Schools were also closed due to the cold.

Authorities across the country are worried about the possibility of power outages and have warned people to take precautions to protect the elderly, the homeless and livestock – and, if possible, to postpone travel.

“If you don’t have to drive out, especially on a Friday, please don’t be there,” said Ron Brundage, director of public works for Detroit. Brundage said 50 trucks will be salting major roads in 24-hour shifts after expected rain turns to snow on Friday.

Kelly Larkin arrived Wednesday from Florida for a vacation trip to New York. She plans to return Saturday night, but said she will watch the forecast and change her return flight if necessary.

“It’s a little worrying,” she said. “We have to play it by ear.”

Kurt Ebenhoch, a consumer travel advocate and former airline executive, said the fee waiver gives travelers valuable time before a storm to come up with alternative days and routes. But users should read the fine print carefully. Airlines may charge the difference in fares if passengers book after a certain window, for example.

Ebenhoch emphasized that passengers have the right to ask the airline to rebook them on another airline if there are no options that meet their needs. And if the airline cancels the flight, consumers are entitled to a full refund, not just credits for future travel.

It seems that the desire to travel and visit family and friends during the holidays outweighs worries about illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that coronavirus cases and deaths have increased in recent weeks, and the trio of COVID-19, seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus, known as RSV, continues to strain the health care system.

Inflation also does not appear to reduce demand for holiday travel. The average round-trip airfare rose 22 percent to $397 in the second quarter of this year — the most recent period available — according to U.S. government data. That was higher than headline U.S. price inflation, which peaked at 9% in June.

Lindsay Roeschke, a travel and hospitality analyst at Morning Consult, a market research company, said travelers appear to be declining in other ways.

In a recent survey, Morning Consult found that 28 percent of U.S. travelers are planning a day trip for the holidays, up from 14 percent last year. There was also a jump in the number of people planning to stay with friends or family instead of hotels. Roeschke thinks higher prices are a factor.




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