East Coast storm snarls Thanksgiving travel

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East Coast storm snarls Thanksgiving travel
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WINDHAM, ME - NOVEMBER 26: Laurie Perham is dressed for the winter in her heavy coat as she cleans the freshly fallen snow from her car after work in Windham in preparation for the ride home to Naples as the snow storm intensifies in Windham areas. (Photo by Gordon Chibroski/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Airline passengers at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, in Virginia, arrive to snow showers on the busiest travel day of the year November 26, 2014. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed Wednesday in the US northeast as a winter storm delivered freezing rain and snow ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, one of the year's biggest travel weekends. A wintry mix was falling in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, according to the National Weather Service, which forecast 'havoc' for travelers along the east coast from the Carolinas up through New England. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

NOOA satellite loop taken on November 26, 2014 of a nor'easter moving up the East Coast of the U.S. Forecasters expect the storm to bring rain and snow to a large swathe of the Eastern Seaboard, disrupting holiday travel on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Airline passengers at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, DC, in Virginia, arrive to snow showers on the busiest travel day of the year November 26, 2014. Hundreds of flights were cancelled or delayed Wednesday in the US northeast as a winter storm delivered freezing rain and snow ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, one of the year's biggest travel weekends. A wintry mix was falling in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, according to the National Weather Service, which forecast 'havoc' for travelers along the east coast from the Carolinas up through New England. AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21: Roadside Snow view from a car on November 21, 2014 in Buffalo, New York as the death toll attributed to Buffalo snow rises to 13. A brutal blast of Arctic air triggered a lake-effect storm and snow in the states of New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick McPartland/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 19: In this handout provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the GOES-East satellite, infrared image shows icy cold Canadian air settles over the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. bringing snow and bitter cold pictured at 12:30 UTC on November 19, 2014. The deep low pressure system is pushing polar air over the Eastern U.S. is centered over southeastern Canada. The storm has already dumped 5 feet of snow outside Buffalo, New York with more on the way. (Photo by NOAA/NASA GOES Project via Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 22: A high loader works to clear snow along an avenue on November 22, 2014 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Patrick McPartland/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 22: A high loader works to clear snow along an avenue on November 22, 2014 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Patrick McPartland/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BUFFALO SNOW MELT: Officials rush to prevent flooding as temperatures climb. 'READ' more: http://t.co/DIUkXovJSi http://t.co/I52SGwNZt6
As #snow melts, #snowvember damage totals sure to rise http://t.co/qb2mMGMMmg via @BfloBizJimFink http://t.co/TQPo7HhE8J
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Snow drifted above many people's heads in Cheektowaga, New York, a southern suburb of Buffalo. (Anthony Quintano)
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BUFFALO, NY, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 21: A residents work to remove snow from the roof on November 21, 2014 in Buffalo, New York as the death toll attributed to Buffalo snow rises to 13. A brutal blast of Arctic air triggered a lake-effect storm and snow in the states of New York, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick McPartland/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) -- A sloppy mix of rain and snow rolled into the Northeast on Wednesday just as millions of Americans began the big Thanksgiving getaway, grounding hundreds of flights and turning highways hazardous along the congested Washington-to-Boston corridor.

By early afternoon, more than 600 flights had been canceled, the bulk of them in the Northeast, during what is typically one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Thousands of flight delays were also expected as the snow from the nor'easter piled up.

Some travelers tried to change their plans and catch earlier flights to beat the storm, and major airlines waived their re-booking fees. But most planes were already filled.

Numerous auto accidents were reported across the Northeast, where by midafternoon the line between rain and snow ran roughly along Interstate 95, the chief route between Washington and Boston.

Schools and businesses also closed in some areas, and state government offices let workers go home early.

Pat Green and her husband drove from Saugerties, New York, to the Albany airport for the first leg of their trip to San Francisco. She said the drive on the New York State Thruway was "a little hairy," but they made it, and their flight was on schedule so far.

"It was snowing so hard you couldn't see the car ahead of you," she said. "We slowed down so we were fine. We also give ourselves a lot of extra time."

Major Northeast cities were likely to see moderate to heavy rain most of the day, though New York could see 1 to 4 inches of snow, and its northern suburbs 6 to 8 inches, the National Weather Service said. Higher elevations west of the I-95 corridor could see as much as 6 to 12 inches.

Winter Storm Cato Will Create Travel Nightmare

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo activated the state's Emergency Operations Center and had 1,800 plow operators standing by to clear snow between New York City and Albany.

Dan Albert hoped to beat the snow as he, his wife and 15-year-old daughter refueled their SUV Wednesday morning along I-81 in Hagerstown, Maryland, about halfway between their Greensboro, North Carolina, home and their Thanksgiving destination in Mahwah, New Jersey.

"Traffic was fine last night, no problems at all, but today's going to be a real booger," Albert said. But he added: "Got to see the folks. We only get to see them once a year. Got to muscle through it, right?"

At a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, tired families grabbed large cups of coffee and breakfasts of pizza and fried chicken before heading back to the slushy road.

Abdullah Masud, a lawyer who lives in Kuwait, was heading from Boston to Washington with a cousin.

"We were originally planning on leaving Wednesday morning, but when we heard about the snowstorm we changed our mind and left Tuesday night. But I don't think it made that much of a difference," he said, noting the heavy traffic.

By early afternoon, airlines had canceled more than 10 percent of their flights at Philadelphia, Newark Liberty and LaGuardia airports.

The wintry weather was not confined to the Northeast. An Alberta clipper left many highways in North and South Dakota slick, and a winter storm warning was issued for parts of Minnesota.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is often called the nation's busiest travel day of the year, but that's probably not true. A U.S. Transportation Department study based on 2001 figures found that when car trips are taken into account, Thanksgiving Day itself is a heavier travel day.

An estimated 41.3 million travelers are expected to hit the nation's highways between Wednesday and Sunday, a 4.3 percent increase over last year, said Robert Sinclair Jr. of AAA New York.

As for air travel, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving didn't even rank among the Top 10 busiest days of 2013, the Transportation Security Administration found.

The top airline travel day last year was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, with 2.2 million passengers. The Friday before Memorial Day was second at 2.1 million.

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Associated Press Writers Jill Colvin in Newark, New Jersey; David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Maryland; Michael Hill in Albany; and Scott Mayerowitz and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.

See more crazy snow from this season:

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Crazy wintery snow from fall 2014
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East Coast storm snarls Thanksgiving travel
A tree in Middleton, Idaho. So many of our trees look like this! Today, more dense fog and freezing temps. High of 27. Yellow air quality. Photo: @KTVBChar We're on the air now! Join us on @ktvb7
As icy cold Canadian air settled over the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. bringing snow and bitter cold, NOAA's GOES-East satellite captured this infrared view of what looks like a frozen blanket over the region. NOAA's GOES-East satellite provides visible and infrared images over the eastern U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean from its fixed orbit in space. In an infrared image taken on Nov. 18 at 12:30 UTC (7:30 a.m. EST), the cold air over the eastern and central U.S. appears to look like a blanket of white, but it's not all snow. Infrared data shows temperature, so although the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. appears to appear is if snow covers the ground, the blanket is in fact cold clouds. However, snow does lie under that blanket in the Upper Midwest, Ohio Valley, and Canada, where it will continue in those areas through Thursday, Nov. 20. To create the image, NASA/NOAA's GOES Project takes the cloud data from NOAA's GOES-East satellite and overlays it on a true-color image of land and ocean created by data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer, or MODIS, instrument that flies aboard NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites. Together, those data created the entire picture of the storm and show its movement. After the storm system passes, the snow on the ground becomes visible. GOES satellites provide the kind of continuous monitoring necessary for intensive data analysis. Geostationary describes an orbit in which a satellite is always in the same position with respect to the rotating Earth. This allows GOES to hover continuously over one position on Earth's surface, appearing stationary. As a result, GOES provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric "triggers" for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms and hurricanes. Image credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters
The scene from Transit Road, a NYSEG truck among those stuck in the #LakeEffect http://t.co/BCCGWcYChp
View of the wall of snow clouds coming into Buffalo http://t.co/rWuNL4OGEq
There is a wall of snow coming off the lake into #Buffalo. Hold your loved ones. #Snow #Weather @WKBW http://t.co/Z28bkOUb9D
Hey @JimCantore my wife is 5'7" I'd say we're at 4 feet in Lancaster, NY and still coming! http://t.co/7iUDaRpfTg
The scene from Transit Road, a NYSEG truck among those stuck in the #LakeEffect http://t.co/BCCGWcYChp
This snow doesn't scare me... 😎
NOAA's automated snow mapping system shows the snow cover across North America on November 18, 2014. 
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