Nightly News   |  December 20, 2013

Travel nightmare: Big storm to impact thousands

This massive storm has everything: heavy snow, possible tornadoes, flash flood watches, and ice storm warnings – all sure to affect holiday travel during one of the busiest seasons of the year. NBC’s John Yang reports and meteorologist Janice Huff has the forecast.

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>>> good evening. i'm lester holt sitting in tonight for brian. on this friday before christmas, millions of americans are on the move. tonight it looks like a lot of grand holiday plans are running smack into the teeth of a big winter storm cutting its way across the country. from freezing rain and snow in the mid section, a tornado threat in the south to floods and ice storms into new england, some 68 million americans could be impacted on this critical travel weekend. we are already seeing some of the impact tonight. chicago 's o'hare airport is experiencing more than 750 delays today. that's where we begin tonight with nbc's john yang . john?

>> reporter: good evening, lester . it has been a messy day here at o'hare with wi95 million americans expected to hit the road this holiday weekend. the travel rush and the impact of the weather are just beginning. in topeka, kansas, and several other states today, roadways turned dangerous as light drizzle quickly changed to ice. in washington state , a ten-car pileup. the massive storm covers at least 35 states and carries with it a little bit of everything -- heavy snow from oklahoma to wisconsin, as much as ten inches predicted through sunday. possible tornadoes with the highest risk tomorrow from texas to tennessee. flash flood watches across 11 states from texas to new york. ice storm warnings in parts of northern new england , even as record warmth as forecast elsewhere for sunday. as high as 80 in south carolina and 70 as far north as new york.

>> what really worries me tornado-wise about this situation is, one, people don't usually expect tornadoes in december. two, they are going to be, in some cases, farther north than people expect them.

>> reporter: it all adds up to potential travel misery from coast to coast .

>> temperatures will be falling.

>> possibly a couple of thunderstorms as the front makes it through the area.

>> the bridges, overpasses, power lines , going to hang a lot of ice up there.

>> reporter: already today flights leaving denver had to wait for de-icing before taking off a. 15 inches of fresh snow in flagstaff, arizona. in chicago , just getting to o'hare was a challenge.

>> it did take a while to get here because of the rain.

>> reporter: in wisconsin, a green bay packers tradition. about 600 fans shoveling out lambeau field for ten bucks an hour. here at o'hare, they are bracing for a messy weekend -- a mix of rain, snow and freezing rain . lester ?

>> thanks, john. janice joins us tonight from the weather center. how is this going to play out?

>> the timing couldn't be worse for travellers with this being right before christmas. the storm is just getting going in west texas with heavy rain moving into central oklahoma . they have ice storm warnings for central oklahoma tonight and tomorrow. could see as much as a half inch of ice there. in the meantime, here is the tracking and the timing of everything. thunderstorms will start to break out around midnight saturday west of dallas. heavy rain will start spreading into the ohio valley , parts of southern illinois . all the ice will spread from oklahoma into central sections of missouri as well. then we'll see thunderstorms setting up early saturday morning west of memphis moving eastward into tennessee, parts of alabamaful this is where we could see tornadoes on saturday evening pushing to atlanta on sunday evening. meanwhile snow from chicago to the great lakes and the ice storm across northern new england with record high temperatures on sunday around new york city close to 70 degrees. lester , back to you.