Flight delays and cancellations piled up Wednesday at some of the busiest airports, and a band of rain from Maine to the Carolinas soaked Americans trying to get home on the busiest travel day of the year.
It wasn’t the Thanksgiving nightmare forecast earlier in the week, but about 600 flights were canceled around the country by evening, and hundreds more were delayed, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.
Hour-long delays persisted into the afternoon at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports in New York, and planes waiting to go to Philadelphia were kept on the ground for two hours. All of those airports are choke points in the nation’s air travel system, ensuring that the hassle would ripple out.
“I’m worried,” Sylvia Faban, a college freshman, told The Associated Press from Chicago, where she and friends were waiting to get to New York. They slumped on top of their bags as Faban checked the New York weather on her phone.
Drivers in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia faced treacherous icy roads, and a gust of wind toppled a tractor-trailer on Interstate 77 in Virginia.
Shoulder-to-shoulder crowds waited for trains at Penn Station in New York on Tuesday night, and gazed up at a status board that showed “DELAYED” over and over.
Kristen McGinnis, hoping to get to Chicago, waited in a long security line at Logan airport in Boston. She had moved her flight up to avoid what was expected to be a messy day of travel.
“My husband, because of work, couldn’t, so I’m hoping he still will be able to join us,” she told WHDH, the NBC affiliate in Boston.
New York’s three major airports were expecting 1.3 million fliers, about 30 percent more than an average Wednesday. Authorities there said that they were worried about strong wind later in the day.
An estimated 43 million Americans will travel for the holiday, the vast majority of them driving.
The good news was that two storm systems that were expected to collide, bringing snow and ice and strong wind to a vast section of the Northeast, never did. Forecasters cut their snow forecasts for some cities in half.
“It is not looking nearly as bad for travelers,” said Kevin Roth, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel. “There is going to be some rain for the larger cities, and some snowfall further inland, but it is coming in pieces.”
One of the two systems, over the Great Lakes, dumped 3 to 7 inches of snow on parts of upstate New York and western Pennsylvania late Tuesday. Mercer, Pa., had 9.5 inches of snow, and Pittsburgh got 3 inches.
Roth said roads in these areas would be far from perfect for drivers, but conditions were likely to be better than the chaos forecast earlier in the week.
Some of the longest travel delays were in Philadelphia, where some in-bound flights were held up for two hours Wednesday because of the weather.
The area, already under a flood watch after 2 to 3 inches of rain overnight was expected to get worse with plummeting temperatures turning precipitation to snow and creating black ice conditions on roadways late Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, a fatal multiple-vehicle accident near Philly — a black Audi sedan hit a pool of water, spun out and slammed into a barrier spurring a chain-reaction pileup — was blamed on the weather. The accident closed the busy freeway westbound for an hour during the morning commute and led to widespread gridlock. State police told NBC Philadelphia that 47-year-old Handy Gunawan was killed in the pileup and at least six others were taken to the hospital with injuries.
Farther south, a tornado was confirmed at Atlantic Beach, N.C. Two people were hurt.
The second storm traveled from California last week and over Southern states. At least 14 people died as a result of icy roads, floods, and fallen power lines, and the storm was responsible for almost 500 flight cancellations at Dallas Fort-Worth.
This system was over Alabama early Wednesday and was due to move to the Northeast by the afternoon.
In New York, organizers of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade kept an eye on the forecast for Thursday. Sustained wind of 15 to 22 mph was expected, with gusts as high as 40.
City rules say that larger balloons, such as Hello Kitty, Spider-Man, SpongeBob Squarepants and Greg from “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” can’t float down Broadway if sustained wind is higher than 23 mph or gusts stronger than 34 mph.
Smaller balloons, including a candy cane and the elusive football that Charlie Brown chases down Broadway, would still be allowed in strong wind.
The rules were put in place after a Cat in the Hat balloon sheared off part of a lamppost on a gusty Thanksgiving Day in 1997, severely injuring two people on the ground.
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