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Thanksgiving travel: Airlines prep for onslaught of passengers amid threat of rain and snow

As more than 53 million people prepare to hit the road, early forecast models show that the potential for inclement weather before the holiday could cause major flight delays.

With more than 53 million people expected to hit the road for Thanksgiving, forecasters are keeping a close eye on weather that has the potential to cause travel troubles.

Meteorologists cautioned that it was still too early to say with certainty what next week's weather would look like, but said rain, snow and wind were likely to result in delays.

Rain is forecast for the East Coast, likely Monday and Tuesday, and could be heavy, Marc Chenard, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, said.

Snow is forecast in northern New England on Tuesday into Wednesday, and lake effect snow could hit portions of the Great Lakes regions Monday and Tuesday, he added.

It also may be one of the coldest weeks of the season, with Thanksgiving Day on track to be particularly chilly for the Midwest and the Northeast.

The rain could result in air delays for major hubs along the Interstate-95 corridor from Washington to Boston, while strong winds and lake effect snow could lead to delayed flights in Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland.

"There's certainly the potential for some impacts. It's going to really depend on how exactly this storm system evolves," Chenard said.

Forecasters said it was too early to provide total snow amounts.

The threat of inclement weather comes as AAA said that it expects more than 53.4 million people to travel for Thanksgiving — an increase of 13 percent from 2020, and nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Airlines have been preparing for the onslaught of travelers. Many had been running on skeletal staffing, having offered voluntary buyouts or leaves of absence to thousands of employees when the pandemic brought the industry to a halt. In recent weeks, they have brought hundreds of staff members back from leave.

But poor weather could have a domino effect next week if storms hit big hubs.

Meanwhile, those traveling by car can expect a high price tag for fuel: The average price per gallon on Thanksgiving Day is projected to cost $3.35, according to the tech app GasBuddy. That's nearing 2012’s record of $3.44 per gallon for the most expensive national average ever for the date, according to GasBuddy.

The high fuel costs and potential for air disruptions come as many are eager to celebrate Thanksgiving after missing out last year, when restrictions were imposed on gatherings and travel due to the pandemic.

And while more than 195 million people are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, public health officials are urging those who have not yet done so to get their vaccinations — especially as the number of Covid cases rise in parts of the country.

On Sunday, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS' "Face the Nation" that he expected cases to increase after the holiday.

"We’re going to see a post-holiday spike, there’s no question about that," he said. "People are exhausted right now, but we need to remain vigilant just for a little bit longer."