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Thanksgiving Day winter storms cause travel woes across U.S.

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Thanksgiving holiday traffic travels on I-70 in Genesee, Colo. on Nov. 27, 2019. -
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Jason Connolly
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Winter storms that carried rain, snow and high winds Thursday wreaked havoc for travelers and threatened Thanksgiving Day festivities for families across the United States.

Areas of South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin saw more than a foot of snow, canceling hundreds of flights and diverting drivers, as one storm system pushed east through the region early Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, a "bomb cyclone" caused by a rapid drop in air pressure brought snow to the mountains, and wind and rain to California and Oregon.

The National Weather Service warned the snowfall could make travel "very difficult to impossible" for parts of the country from the Western United States to the Central Plains. Snow is expected to continue to fall through the rest of the week, bringing totals to as high as one to two feet.

There were 485 flight delays and 23 cancellations within the U.S. on Thanksgiving as midday on the East Coast, according to FlightAware. There were nearly 5,600 delayed and 800 cancelled flights on Wednesday as people across the country tried to reach their families in time for the holiday.

In Colorado, a storm dropped nearly three feet of snow on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported, cancelling about 30 percent of the flights at the Denver International Airport.

Approximately 1,100 people were trapped in the airport due to the winter weather, airport spokesman Alex Renteria told the AP, noting that it could take days for many of them to get rebooked during the busy travel holiday. Those passengers who ended up camping out on the floor of the airport were given blankets, diapers, baby formula, toothbrushes and toothpaste by airport workers.

Stormy travel misery on Wednesday and Thursday extended to ground travel as well.

Winter storm and avalanche warnings as well as winter weather advisories and high wind watches stretched across Colorado, making road trips difficult. One person died and two people were injured after a tractor-trailer jackknifed, striking two other vehicles near the winter sports town of Vail.

Minnesota State Patrol reported dozens of collisions and spinouts due to the snowy and icy conditions through Wednesday.

Snow falls along the Interstate 5 freeway at the Tejon Pass as travelers try to get in and out of Southern California for the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 27, 2019, near Gorman, Calif.
Snow falls along the Interstate 5 freeway at the Tejon Pass as travelers try to get in and out of Southern California for the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 27, 2019, near Gorman, Calif.David Crane

Early snowfall on Thursday also resulted in the closure of a mountain pass portion of Interstate 5 in California, according to highway operator Caltrans. It followed an earlier closure closer to the Oregon border that left some drivers stranded on the roadside for up to 17 hours.

Along the California coast, heavy rain of up to two inches prompted flash-flood warnings.

High winds knocked down a streetlight in Chicago, narrowly missing local resident Mike Norwood's vehicle as he slammed onerr the brakes.

"I'm blessed. I'm truly blessed," he told NBC News Chicago, adding that his 4-year-old daughter was in the car. "It could have ended so differently."

Meanwhile, an East Coast storm was expected to bring up to three inches of snowfall for Maine and New Hampshire throughout Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

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Debris from the high winds also damaged power lines in the D.C. area. In northern Virginia, more than 4,000 Dominion Energy customers woke up to a power outage Thursday morning.

Unfortunately, weather issues also affected some grand Thanksgiving celebrations as well.

In Philadelphia, organizers of the country's oldest Thanksgiving parade were forced to ground giant balloons due to dangerous wind gusts of up to 50 mph. Winds in New York City also threatened to cancel balloons for Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, but police announced it was safe enough to go ahead as planned though they would decrease the balloons' height.

"Hey Astronaut Snoopy, we are clear for take-off!" The New York Police Department declared on Twitter Thursday morning.

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