NEW YORK – A massive snow storm forced hundreds of flight cancellations at US airports Sunday, creating travel misery for thousands of Christmas travelers just as conditions in Europe began to ease.
As hundreds of passengers trapped by freezing weather in Paris and Brussels returned home after European flights resumed normal service on Christmas Day, it was the turn of the Americans to shiver and face disruption to their plans.
The northeast was to get the worst hit from a “dangerous” storm forecast to move northward up the eastern coast of the United States and bring “significant” amounts of snowfall, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
Crews pre-treated roads with salt and prepared emergency vehicles in Washington, which was paralyzed for days by record snow falls last year.
The capital looked set to escape the worst of the conditions this time around, but blizzard warnings were issued for coastal New England, the northern New Jersey shore and New York City.
The storm was expected to dump a total of between nine and 15 inches (22.8 to 38.1 centimeters) on the Big Apple as powerful wind gusts blow through the city.
Boston was forecast to receive up to 22 inches (55.9 centimeters) of the white stuff by Monday, with wind gusts as high as 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour by that evening..
The storm was already bringing misery to travelers hoping to return home from their Christmas vacations. Many airlines waived fees for changing flights.
Delta Air Lines said one sixth of its flights around the country, some 850, had been canceled on Sunday.
Continental Airlines canceled 265 departures, primarily from Newark Liberty International Airport, outside New York. It warned, though, that most domestic and international flights later Sunday through mid-morning Monday would be canceled due to the disruption at its main hub.
United Airlines had already canceled 110 flights — in Boston, Philadelphia and the three main New York airports: Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International.
“Primarily, it affects our customers. So we're trying to accommodate our travelers. We issued a travel waiver for travel from the 25th to the 27th to give our customers the opportunity to change their plans if possible,” United spokesman Mike Trevino told AFP.
“We tried to pre-cancel as many flights as we could so customers wouldn't have to go to the airport only to find that their flight was canceled.”
AirTran Airways cancelled 81 flights to the northeast cities expected to be hardest hit, including New York, Boston and Philadelphia.
Southwest Airlines also canceled flights, mainly to and from Dulles International Airport and Baltimore Washington International Airport outside Washington, as well as Newark.
“The surface low is expected to intensify rapidly as it moves Northeast past the mid-Atlantic coast today. By Sunday night, the low will have moved Northeast to the waters off Long Island and will have intensified into a rather potent winter storm,” the NWS said in an advisory.
“We know many people are traveling for the holidays and we want everyone to be extremely cautious,” North Carolina Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell told a local television station. “Anyone who is thinking of driving during the next few days, should pay careful attention to the weather and traffic forecasts before heading out.”
Ice and snow has already snarled road traffic in several southeastern states, including Georgia's northern mountains where six inches (15.2 centimeters) were reported Saturday. North Carolina's department of transportation reported interstate highways partially covered with snow and ice.
Meanwhile, Americans in the deep south were treated to a very rare white Christmas Saturday, and several hundred flights were canceled amid foul weather that could see much of the US east coast snowbound by Boxing Day.
Light to moderate snow blanketed communities in the southern Gulf states of Alabama and Mississippi, meteorologists said, while Atlanta, Georgia reportedly enjoyed its first snowy Christmas in 128 years.
Snowfalls were expected to break records in the normally mild south, where residents including thrilled youngsters were surprised by the winter weather.
– AFP /ls
Channel News Asia