Winter storm lashes eastern U.S., threatens Thanksgiving travel


By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON, Nov 26 (Reuters) - A powerful storm dumped heavyrain and snow over much of the eastern United States on Tuesday,threatening to snarl travel plans for millions of people overthe busy Thanksgiving holiday, forecasters said.

The Atlantic coast into New England will be drenched with 2to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) of rain by late Wednesday, the daybefore Thanksgiving, as the storm moves northeast out of theSouth, said the National Weather Service.

The windswept rain will pound the Atlantic corridor fromRichmond, Virginia, as far north as Portland, Maine, likelycausing poor visibility, flight delays and urban flooding, saidonline forecasters

The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the nation's busiesttravel times. Some 39 million travelers are expected on theroads between Wednesday and Sunday, centering on ThanksgivingDay, travel group AAA has said.

"The timing of the storm could not come at a worst time,"said Alex Sosnowski, senior meteorologist.

Snow on the flanks of the rainstorm is likely to causetravel delays in Boston, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Buffalo,New York, while the storm's wind-driven rain will slow travelfrom Atlanta to New York, said.

Late on Tuesday, flight delays were reported in Charlotte,North Carolina, Philadelphia, Memphis and Baltimore, Maryland.

Where the start of the holiday travel period was smooth,travelers were bracing for trouble.

At New York's LaGuardia Airport, Terry Colley, 59, anoperations manager for a company in Memphis, said he and hiswife came to the airport four hours early in case of delays,although their fears were as yet unfounded.

"So far, so good," he said.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, theworld's busiest, Michelle Duncan, a 26-year-old graduate studentfrom Chicago, arrived to spend Thanksgiving with a friend. Sheexpressed surprise that her trip had been relativelyhassle-free.

"I'm sure tomorrow it's going to be chaos," she said.

Forecasters added that freezing rain was expected to coatthe Appalachian Mountains in Virginia and West Virginia.

More than a foot (30.5 cm) of snow could fall in westernPennsylvania, western New York and Vermont before skies clear onThursday, they said.

But those clear skies will bring winds of 15 to 25 miles perhour (24 to 40 km), gusting higher, and temperatures belowfreezing in the northeastern United States, said Bruce Terry,lead forecaster with the National Weather Service.

"We've got everything with this - real heavy rains, (at) thelower elevations a band of freezing rain, heavy snows and thenbehind it, wind," he said.

The giant character balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York may be grounded if the windsare too strong. City regulations bar the huge balloons fromflying when sustained winds top 23 miles per hour (37 km perhour), and gusts exceed 34 mph (55 kph).

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a winter weatherwarning and urged motorists to use extreme caution.

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