MINEOLA, N.Y.—A sloppy mix of rain and snow rolled into the Northeast on Wednesday just as millions of Americans began the big Thanksgiving getaway, grounding hundreds of flights and turning highways hazardous along the congested Washington-to-Boston corridor.
By early afternoon, more than 600 flights had been canceled, the bulk of them in the Northeast, during what is typically one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thousands of flight delays were also expected as the snow from the nor’easter piled up.
Some travelers tried to change their plans and catch earlier flights to beat the storm, and major airlines waived their re-booking fees. But most planes were already filled.
Numerous traffic accidents were reported across the Northeast, where by mid afternoon the line between rain and snow ran roughly along Interstate 95, the chief route between Washington and Boston.
Schools and businesses also closed in some areas, and state government offices let workers go home early.
Pat Green and her husband drove from Saugerties, New York, to the Albany airport for the first leg of their trip to San Francisco. She said the drive on the New York State Thruway was “a little hairy,” but they made it, and their flight was on schedule so far.
“It was snowing so hard you couldn’t see the car ahead of you,” she said. “We slowed down so we were fine. We also give ourselves a lot of extra time.”
Major Northeast cities were likely to see moderate to heavy rain most of the day, though New York could see 1 to 4 inches of snow, and its northern suburbs 6 to 8 inches, the National Weather Service said. Higher elevations west of the I-95 corridor could see as much as 6 to 12 inches.
Dan Albert hoped to beat the snow as he, his wife and 15-year-old daughter refueled their SUV Wednesday morning along I-81 in Hagerstown, Maryland, about halfway between their Greensboro, North Carolina, home and their Thanksgiving destination in Mahwah, New Jersey.
“Traffic was fine last night, no problems at all, but today’s going to be a real booger,” Albert said. But he added: “Got to see the folks. We only get to see them once a year. Got to muscle through it, right?”
At a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, tired families grabbed large cups of coffee and breakfasts of pizza and fried chicken before heading back to the slushy road.
Abdullah Masud, a lawyer who lives in Kuwait, was heading from Boston to Washington with a cousin.
“We were originally planning on leaving Wednesday morning, but when we heard about the snowstorm we changed our mind and left Tuesday night. But I don’t think it made that much of a difference,” he said, noting the heavy traffic.
By early afternoon, airlines had canceled more than 10 percent of their flights at Philadelphia, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports.
The wintry weather was not confined to the Northeast. An Alberta clipper left many highways in North and South Dakota slick, and a winter storm warning was issued for parts of Minnesota.
An estimated 41.3 million travelers are expected to hit the nation’s highways between Wednesday and Sunday, a 4.3 percent increase over last year, according to AAA.
Snow Makes Thanksgiving Travel ‘a Little Hairy’
Some holiday travelers are giving thanks for the cheapest gas prices in years. But that’s cold comfort to those beating a path through stormy weather, including a nor’easter affecting a wide swath of the East Coast.
Alas, the yearly Thanksgiving trek, be it across the country or across town, may be a mixed bag of the usual travel headaches with a little extra pocket money as a consolation prize. A snapshot of what it’s like out there:
It’s All About Aunt Bo
No nor’easter was going to keep the Beardslees from making the 600-mile pilgrimage from home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to a family gathering in Chatham, New Jersey — especially given that Bill Beardslee’s 94-year-old great-aunt Bo was going to be there.
“The whole trip is about Aunt Bo,” said Bill’s wife, Stacy, during a Dunkin’ Donuts stop along Interstate 81 in Hagerstown, Maryland, on Wednesday, their second day on the road.
They did hit some snow later, but it was no match for the Chevrolet Suburban they rented. Lower gas prices were one reason they decided to ride in style in a rental that Stacy affectionately called a “big, honkin’ car.”
That left plenty of room for the ski pants, hats and gloves they packed as part of their winter survival kit.
-David Dishneau in Hagerstown
Larson and Alice Hunter and their two young children were in Anchorage, Alaska, heading home to Scammon Bay, a remote Yup’ik Eskimo community of fewer than 500 people on Alaska’s western coast.
Back in Scammon Bay, the family will have two Thanksgiving feasts — first with Alice’s parents, then with Larson’s mother. Along with turkey and the usual fixings, they will have akutaq, or Eskimo ice cream, which usually includes berries, sugar and sometimes fish. Larson’s mother will also prepare other native food.
“Moose is typical,” Larson said.
“If we’re lucky, snow goose,” Alice said.
-Rachel D’oro in Anchorage
Running the Gauntlet
A nor’easter on the East Coast, an Alberta clipper in the Dakotas and a winter storm warning for parts of Minnesota. That’s plenty of travel chaos right there, yet some, like Anya Verriden, her husband and their two young boys, made it through. The family from Milwaukee caught a flight from Chicago to Albany, New York, where they waited for their baggage in a surprisingly uncrowded airport.
They moved their flight up and planned to rent a car for the rest of their snowy journey to Northampton, Massachusetts.
“It looked like the snow was going to get really bad in the afternoon,” Verriden said. “… We’re already seeing that flights are getting canceled and delayed, so it looks like we made the right choice.”
-Michael Hill in Albany
Rain, Snow and … Thundersnow
Angela Marcantonini says the long, steady rumble of thunder accompanying a heavy snow is one of the strangest things she’s ever heard.
Marcantonini was getting ready to drive from Blue Bell, a Philadelphia suburb, to the Pocono Mountains for the holiday.
“It caught me off guard. I didn’t really think it was thunder at first,” she said, describing it as a sustained boom, followed by two short bursts.
The National Weather Service had multiple reports of thundersnow near Philadelphia between 11 a.m. and noon.
-Michael Sisak in Philadelphia
Anna Ortiz was three hours early for her flight from Milwaukee to Chicago, not because she was worried about the crowds or the weather, but because she wanted to hear the piano players in the waiting area.
The 76-year-old bopped her head as a musician played the “Peanuts” theme song.
“I always wanted to play piano,” she said. “It’s nice to hear it. It’s relaxing also.”
-Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee
From The Associated Press. AP Writers Jill Colvin in Newark, New Jersey; David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Maryland; Michael Hill in Albany; and Scott Mayerowitz and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.