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East Coast Storm to Snarl Thanksgiving Travel

By Kristina Pydynowski, Senior Meteorologist
November 24, 2014; 4:54 AM ET


East Coast travelers will have to deal with a major winter storm on Wednesday, the busiest travel day of the year.

The culprit for any headaches or nightmares for travelers trying to reach their Thanksgiving Day destinations will be a storm system set to ride up or parallel the East Coast at midweek.

The exact track of the storm will determine how expansive travel impacts will be.

The storm will initially be responsible for spreading steady rain and embedded thunderstorms across the Florida Peninsula on Tuesday through Tuesday evening.

Tuesday night through the start of Thanksgiving, the storm will turn northward and impact the rest of the East Coast.

Slow travel, both on the ground and in the air, can be expected in the Southeast on Wednesday along the I-95 corridor, as well as in Miami, Florida; Charleston, South Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Norfolk, Virginia.

Farther north, the storm will strengthen and track close enough to the coast to bring a wide area of snow to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Areas closer to the coast will have enough warm air for rain to fall at times, which will cut down on accumulations. From Cape Cod to eastern Long Island, mainly rain is expected to fall.

The snow and rain will likely come down heavy at times, causing travel nightmares from the airports to the roads.

The heavy rain would alone cause issues for travelers by increasing the threat of downpours and water ponding on roadways, while airline passengers should prepare for delays due to low clouds and rain.

Enough cold air will be in place for mostly snow to fall from Virginia's I-81 corridor to New England. These areas are in line to pick up greater than 6 inches of snow.

Latest indications put places west of the Northeast's I-95 corridor at risk for 6 inches or more of snow, which would create treacherous conditions on roads and flight cancellations.

Snow is expected to fall and accumulate a few inches in Washington, D.C., New York City, Philadelphia and Boston. However, with rain falling at times and mixing with the snow, accumulations in the cities themselves will be less than their northern and western suburbs.

"The storm should rapidly strengthen off the coast of New England on Wednesday night, leading to strong and gusty winds, especially near the coast. This would lead to some blowing and drifting of the snow, making travel on Wednesday night very difficult," stated AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Ben Noll as he discussed the impacts in this storm scenario.

"There is also an increasing likelihood for a swath of heavy snow stretching from eastern Pennsylvania through New York's Hudson Valley and across much of New England before all is said and done.

Some places across the Hudson Valley and New England could even have snow totals exceed a foot.

Travelers in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast planning to head to their Thanksgiving Day destinations on Wednesday should continue to check back with AccuWeather.com for the latest on this storm and start considering travel alternatives in the event this major travel-disrupting scenario unfolds.

Given the storm's current forecast and speed, conditions across central and northern New England would be better for travelers in the morning than the afternoon hours on Wednesday as conditions would then be deteriorating.

While significant snow is expected across a large part of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, any small wobble in the track of the storm could significantly change snowfall amounts and precipitation types in some areas.

AAA projects that 46.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving weekend, the highest volume for the holiday since 2007 and a 4.2 percent increase over last year.

As far as Thanksgiving Day itself, any storm will be departing the Northeast with improving conditions along the I-95 corridor.

The strength and how quick the storm departs will determine any impacts on the balloons in New York City's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. While winds will be lessening during the day, winds that could prove to be too strong to allow the balloons to fly would howl on Thursday morning if the storm is slower to depart.