Travel trouble is brewing for Thanksgiving. In something of a replay of last week's spring-to-winter cold plunge, traffic-snarling snow and ice are in the forecast from New England to Georgia for Wednesday — the busiest day of the holiday week on the roads, on the rails and in the skies.
And it couldn't come at a worse time: AAA said 41 million Americans will travel for this Thanksgiving, the most in seven years, and millions of them are in for a mess.
In the Northeast, where temperatures reached into the sunny 70s Monday, conditions could be cold and strong enough to qualify as a Nor'easter within just 48 hours. Highs approaching the record for Nov. 24 in New York City and parts of New Jersey could fall as much as 40 degrees by Wednesday morning as a cold coastal system moves in, dropping rain along the shore and a wintry mix inland.
The Weather Channel said the best chance for snow is north and west of Interstate 95 on Wednesday night, but forecasters caution that it's too early to say for sure and that it depends on the location and strength of a developing low-pressure system.
Winter storm watches are already posted for the Northeast for Wednesday and Thursday. The National Weather Service said the New York area could see 6 to 10 inches of snow, while 6 inches or more are possible in western Massachusetts.
But the band of tricky weather is much bigger than that. Snow is forecast for Wednesday from Maine down to the Washington suburbs, and ice from New Jersey south to the mountains of north Georgia.
Meanwhile, a fast-moving Alberta Clipper low-pressure area is forecast to drop southeast from Canada onto the Midwest on Tuesday night, dropping snow and sending blustery winds sweeping across the region beginning Tuesday night — winds that could cause significant delays at airports from Denver to Boston. The Federal Aviation Administration warned in particular about delays and cancellations at LaGuardia in New York, at Reagan National outside Washington and in Philadelphia.
The rising and falling temperatures could create a massive headache for western New York as it tries to shovel its way out of last week's history-making snowfall. Temperatures rose into the 60s Monday, melting some of the snow choking the Buffalo area and putting much of the area under a flood warning.
A large ice floe broke loose Monday on Cazenovia Creek in the town of West Seneca, a few miles southeast of Buffalo, sending the water level up by a foot in just a few hours. The creek is now expected to crest above its flood stage of 10 feet on Monday evening, forecasters said. Cayuga Creek near Lancaster, Buffalo Creek near Gardenville and Ellicott Creek near Williamsville are all also expected to reach flood levels.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the county has 25 pumps ready to deploy and has rented eight more in case they're needed. The state has sent 51 boats, 375 heavy-duty pumps, 29 high-axle vehicles, more than 500 National Guard troops and more than 176,000 sandbags to help out. And just in case, a swift-water rescue team has arrived in town from New York City, Poloncarz told NBC station WGRZ of Buffalo.
But temperatures are expected to plunge back into the teens by Thursday — potentially starting the freeze-thaw-flood cycle all over again.
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Erin McClam of NBC News contributed to this report.