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Winter storm system could hamper Thanksgiving travel from Plains to Northeast

Forecasters are warning Thanksgiving travelers to beware, as a sweeping winter storm system could bring icy roads, flight delays and more headaches to the holiday next week.

“We’ve been lucky the last few years, but unfortunately this is a rather poorly timed storm,” said Jonathan Erdman, senior meteorologist at the Weather Channel.

Erdman said the Northeast would likely see “massive flight delays” on Wednesday in all major airports, because of rain, snow and low-lying clouds that wreak havoc with flight plans. 

More than 2.4 million people are expected to have flights scheduled the day before Thanksgiving, according to Airlines for America, an airline industry group. 

The storm is “about as expansive a winter storm as it get,” according to Erdman, with its effects being felt from California to Maine.

The system has already brought freezing rain, sleet and heavy snow in parts of the southern Plains and desert Southwest. One to 2 feet of snow can be expected to blanket the mountains of southwest Colorado, northern New Mexico, parts of northern Arizona, and southern Utah, according to The Weather Channel. Freezing rain and snow will continue across the Plains States late Saturday and Sunday, possibly persisting into Monday.

This NOAA satellite image taken Friday shows a cold front moving through the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, the Lower Mississippi Valley, and the Southern Plains.

Another wave of the storm will push out into New Mexico and possibly the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area on Saturday, creating difficult weekend travel conditions in the area.

The storm system then sets itself on track for the Northeast, with some initial rain and low clouds moving up past Washington D.C., by late Tuesday. Erdman said specific details as to how much snow the storm will bring were still unclear, and while it would not be a crippling snowstorm for holiday travel, it would make air and road trips more difficult.

The storm will for the most part be gone come Thanksgiving Day in most areas, but an impending cold front should still leave snow on the roads.

“If you’re headed to grandma’s house Thanksgiving morning, it’s still going to a dicey drive in the Northeast in general,” Erdman said. He added that scheduling early travel for this weekend, before the storm hits, would be best for travelers.

“Probably the last chance to avoid any significant travel delays would be Tuesday morning in the Northeast, even Monday and early Tuesday,” he said. “You’ll save a lot of grief.”

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