By Peter Szekely
(Reuters) – Two winter storms lumbering across parts of the United States on Wednesday disrupted the travel plans of millions of Americans who typically jam the country’s highways and airports to visit family and friends over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
One of the hardest-hit areas on the day before Thanksgiving Day was Minnesota’s Twin Cities region, which was blanketed in white by the same system that clobbered the Denver area a day earlier.
Snowfall totals in and around Minneapolis had reached 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) by Wednesday morning before topping out at up to 12 inches as the system slides to the east, said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
The storm, which is also packing high winds, will move eastward on Wednesday across upper Michigan and upstate New York toward central Maine, which could get 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) of snow, the Weather Service forecast.
“By the time we get to tonight, we’re really looking for the impacts to move into northern New England,” Hurley said.
On the other side of the country, a second major storm was slamming Oregon and Northern California, where damaging winds, coastal flooding and heavy mountain snows of up to 4 feet (120 cm) were forecast.
Farther south, the front was expected to dump heavy rain, threatening flash floods from San Diego to Los Angeles, the weather service said.
As a side benefit, the rain was expected to douse the so-called Cave Fire in Santa Barbara County, which has charred 7 square miles (1,810 hectares) of brush and woodlands, and prompted temporary evacuation orders for 5,500 residents.
Even as the storms bought rain, snow and high winds to the Upper Midwest and far Western states, they spared the highly populated East Coast and central Midwest, which were also expected to fare well as travellers go back home on Sunday.
“The densely populated areas are going to be fine in both cases,” said Hurley.
The weather woes set in as a near-record 55 million Americans follow through on their plans to use to planes, trains and automobiles to travel at least 50 miles (80 km) for Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday, according to the American Automobile Association.
One-quarter of the 103 U.S. flights cancelled by Wednesday morning were going to or coming from the Twin Cities’ MSP Airport, according to FlightAware.com.
Despite being one of the busiest travel days of the year, New York’s LaGuardia Airport – unaffected by the worst of the weather – was relatively serene.
“It’s a normal day here,” said management consultant Nimish Mittal, 26, as he and his wife Slesha, who live in Manhattan and got to the airport early for lines that never materialized, awaited their flight to Kansas City, where they both have families.
Margaret Moir, 67, had just arrived at LaGuardia from Detroit, for a weekend in New York with a girlfriend. It was to be her first Thanksgiving without her husband, who died of liver cancer two weeks ago.
“I’ve cried plenty,” said Moir, a retired state government worker, as she waited for her friend’s delayed flight from Atlanta to arrive.
On their agenda for the weekend was watching the Macy’s parade from their Times Square hotel room, before heading to the upscale Bergdorf Goodman department store for turkey.
But winds forecast at 20 to 25 mph (32 to 40 km) with gusts of up to 40 mph (64 km) were threatening to sideline the parade’s 16 giant balloons for safety reasons. Organizers have said they will make a decision on Thursday morning.
The storm now in the West is expected to move eastward and create new woes, especially in the Upper Midwest, for travellers planning to return home on Sunday, the weather service said.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Jonathan Oatis)