Winter Storm Draco: How It Affects Your Holiday Travel Plans

  @MarkJohansonIBT on December 21 2012 11:37 AM
Winter Storm Draco 2012
A Cedar Falls plow clears the snow on the road in Cedar Falls, Iowa, December 20, 2012. The first major winter storm of the year took aim at the U.S. Midwest on Thursday, triggering high wind and blizzard warnings across a widespread area, and a threat of tornadoes in Gulf Coast states to the south. Reuters

The storm-related travel chaos that brought the Midwest to a standstill on Thursday began to ease Friday, though Winter Storm “Draco” developed a second storm center over the East Coast that could cause even more flight delays through the holiday weekend.

Flight-tracking website Flightaware reported 381 cancellations in the U.S. Friday morning. That number will likely rise through the day, but it should be below the 1,154 flights axed Thursday when Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway alone saw nearly 600 arrivals and departures cancelled. Other hard-hit airports included Kansas City, Detroit Metro Wayne and Minneapolis-St Paul.

Draco, which has been blamed for at least six deaths in five states, barreled east Friday, carrying heavy rains and high winds to the nation’s busiest region: the Northeast Corridor. Though cities from Washington to Boston will not receive any snow from the storm, a combination of low clouds, rain and wind gusting up to 60 mph could cause significant delays at airports through Sunday.

“Snow will generally be winding down across northern New England on Saturday as the storm departs; however, other travel problems will linger,” noted AccuWeather meteorologist Meghan Evans. “Brisk winds will continue in the Northeast on Sunday, particularly across New England.”

The National Weather Service has issued high-wind and flood warnings for parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. New York-area airports Newark and LaGuardia each reported that about three-dozen departures were cancelled Friday morning due to strong winds, causing a ripple effect of delays across the nation.

US Airways, American Airlines, Delta Air Ways, United Airlines, JetBlue, Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines have all enacted flexible rebooking policies for those flying into or out of airports affected by the storm. Though the policies vary by carrier, all are good for alterations through at least Friday evening.

AAA projects that 93 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more during the year-end holidays. With 90 percent of those (or about 84.4 million) traveling by car, Draco has caused numerous delays. The winter storm shut down several major highways across the Great Plains and Midwest Thursday and caused upwards of 1,000 accidents, including a 25-car pileup in Des Moines. Whiteout conditions made for dangerous driving from Western Ohio up through Buffalo and Rochester in Upstate New York Friday. Portions of I-90 are expected to come to a standstill by the afternoon amid heavy, lake-effect snow bands.

As always, anyone traveling by air is encouraged to check the status of their flight before heading to the airport, while those traveling by car should monitor the progress of Winter Storm Draco and check with local authorities to stay up to date on road conditions.

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