Snowstorm may complicate pre-Thanksgiving travel

If you're traveling east for Thanksgiving, call Grandma and tell her you might be late.

Meteorologists say a storm gaining speed in the Gulf of Mexico will likely bring snow and heavy showers to the East Coast by Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year. As millions board planes and pack highways to make it home in time for Thanksgiving, heavy winds could delay flights and slow traffic across Pennsylvania and beyond.

Only a few areas expect blizzard conditions, so this is no "Snowmageddon" -- but try explaining that to the turkey slowly cooling on the dinner table as you rush from the airport.

"If you can travel Tuesday morning, that's a better option," AccuWeather meteorologist Dan DePodwin said. "While snow is not an issue for the big cities, it does look like wind and rain will cause delays."

Pittsburgh International Airport expects about 16,000 people to fly out on Wednesday, and a slightly larger number to return on Sunday, spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said. Traffic is heaviest from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., with waits in security lines that can exceed 30 minutes, she said.

According to AccuWeather, cities along Interstate 95 -- Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York -- will likely see only rain, with temperatures warming to between 40 and 50 degrees. Things get a bit frostier moving west, with snow expected through Appalachia, Central Pennsylvania and up into New York.

Pittsburgh is on the western edge of the storm. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch Sunday afternoon, warning the region to expect up to 6 inches of snow. Forecasters expect precipitation to begin tonight and through Tuesday, wrapping up Wednesday.

Snow has already piled up along the I-80 corridor, with the weather service reporting more than 20 inches dumped on Venango County.

A large storm already blamed for at least eight deaths in the West slogged through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and other parts of the Southwest on Sunday, leading to hundreds of flight cancellations as it slowly churned east.

After the storm plows through the Southwest, meteorologists expect the Arctic mass to head south and east, threatening plans for Tuesday and Wednesday.

More than 300 flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, representing about one-third of the scheduled departures.

The National Weather Service had issued a winter storm warning for chunks of North Texas until midday Sunday. Parts of Oklahoma are also under a winter storm warning, while an advisory has been issued for other parts of the state. A mix of rain and sleet began falling north of Dallas on Interstate 35 by midday Sunday, and areas of southwestern Oklahoma woke up to several inches of snow.

Everywhere else in America? Peachy-keen. Maybe a refreshing shower in San Francisco around the middle of the week.

"If you can get out of where you're getting out of, the rest of the country is quiet on Wednesday," Mr. DePodwin said.

Fortunately, AAA expects fewer folks on the road this Thanksgiving -- 43.4 million people will travel more than 50 miles for the holiday this week, they project. That's a 1.5 percent drop from 2013.

Our region will take a harder hit, with total travelers in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey dropping 2.4 percent to 5.01 million.

Curiously, people are driving farther -- an average of 601 miles per traveler, up from 588 -- an indication that those with families closer by are staying home this Thanksgiving.

Traveling back to Pittsburgh looks to be more pleasant, with tranquil skies expected through the weekend. And fear not: Mr. DePodwin believes Black Friday weather will be optimal.

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497. The Associated Press contributed. First Published November 24, 2013 3:56 PM

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