ST. LOUIS (AP) — Holiday travelers in the Midwest and in
parts East and South were keeping a leery eye Friday on a band of foul
weather that stretched across the nation's midsection and that was
threatening to mess up opening weekend of one of the year's busiest travel
Forecasters were predicting a stew of foul weekend weather, from freezing
rain then snow in the north to torrential rain in the Ohio Valley and
Appalachia and possibly even tornadoes in parts of the South.
The worst of the storm wasn't expected to hit Midwest population centers
until Saturday, and although few flights had been cancelled as of midday
Friday, the weather was taking a toll on air travel: FlightStats.com
reported more than 1,900 U.S. delays, with the most at Chicago's O'Hare,
Denver International, and the three big New York-area airports.
The foul weather could cause headaches for the estimated 94.5 million
Americans planning to travel by road or air during this holiday season,
which runs from Saturday through New Year's Day. Concerns were similar to
just a month ago, when a winter storm hit just as people were traveling
Tom Griffith, a financial planner from suburban Little Rock, Ark., moved
up his departure time for a two-day road trip to Cincinnati so he could
get ahead of bad weather.
"The TV said severe weather would impact southeast Arkansas up to Memphis
in the afternoon. My plan is to be past Memphis before noon," Griffith
said Friday. "I guess my biggest concern would be the wind with the semis
on the interstates."
Initial worries are mostly in the South and Midwest. Yet while much of the
East awoke Friday to unusually warm weather for this time of year, the
region was next in the storm front's crosshairs, creating pre-Christmas
travel worries from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York.
Temperatures that hovered in the 60s in some parts of the Midwest on
Thursday plummeted overnight, and freezing rain Friday morning snarled
traffic and forced some school closures in Michigan and Wisconsin. The
Wisconsin Department of Transportation said Interstate 90/94 was
ice-covered from Tomah and Mauston. The state was bracing for significant
snow, sleet and ice.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch from Arkansas
northeastward through parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, with
up to 4 inches of rain projected. With falling temperatures, some of that
could be freezing rain by Saturday night in the St. Louis area, weather
service meteorologist Jon Carney said.
Forecasters said thunderstorms would likely develop in the South. The area
that was most in peril stretched from central and northeastern Texas
through Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and southeast Missouri, where 80
mph wind gusts and flash flooding were possible.
By Sunday night, the storm systems will be hammering the East Coast. Some
New England and mid-Atlantic states could see rare winter thunderstorms.
Tom Kines, an AccuWeather meteorologist, said the unsettled weather comes
as a cold front in the northern U.S. clashes with unusually warm and humid
air coming up from the South. He said that warm air will lead to record or
near-record highs in many places over the next day or two. Nashville could
reach into the 70s on Saturday. New York City could approach 70 degrees on
The warm air, though, will bring plenty of trouble to some areas.
"I think there's a high likelihood there will be severe storms with hail
and damaging wind" in parts of the South, Kines said. "Whether or not
there's tornadoes, that's tough to say, but I will say the conditions are
Tornadoes are far more common in the spring and summer, but not unheard of
in the winter. A tornado outbreak on Christmas Day 2012 reached from
northeastern Texas through central Alabama — one twister hit Mobile, Ala.
A tornado on Dec. 16, 2000, killed 11 people in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
In Vinita, Okla., on Friday, customers were lining for gas at Diamond Rio
convenience store — a common practice when the weather forecast is bad for
the region, which was expected to get ice and snow.
Oklahoma gets more than its share of nasty weather, and Vinita resident
James Allen took the forecast in stride.
"Right now I don't think it's gonna be that bad," he said. "Might be a
little bit of ice and snow but I think it'll melt off in a couple of
Farther north, more traditional winter weather was the biggest worry.
Kansas City, Mo., was bracing for freezing rain, then 6 inches of snow. In
New England, Nikki Becker of the National Weather Service said much of
Maine and parts of New Hampshire could get up to a half-inch of ice
Saturday night through Sunday morning.
The timing couldn't be worse. AAA is projecting record travel for this
holiday period, and spokeswoman Heather Hunter said more than 90 percent
of travelers will get there by car. She encouraged drivers to check the
weather, not only at their destination but at points along the route,
before heading out. Motorists should also make sure their vehicles are
road trip-ready, especially the tread and air pressure on the tires. They
should also make sure there is plenty of windshield washer fluid that
The good news is that Christmas is mid-week.
"When a holiday falls on a Wednesday it gives travelers more flexibility
of either leaving the weekend before, or traveling right before the
holiday and extending the trip through the following weekend," Hunter