Major storm system may threaten busiest day of Thanksgiving travel

Travel conditions on the notoriously worst day to move around the country for the Thanksgiving holiday will depend on the severity and track of a storm currently forecast to rage over the central United States during the middle of next week.

While an active storm track will bring rain to part of the South and rain, ice and snow to parts of the Midwest and Northeast this weekend, a potentially very disruptive storm has its eyes on the Mississippi Valley and Midwest spanning next Tuesday and Wednesday -- at the very height of the Thanksgiving travel rush.

Travelers wait in line to board a bus ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday in Philadelphia, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

"Should the storm develop to its full potential by Wednesday evening and take a northward track toward the Great Lakes, heavy, windswept snow would fall just northwest of the storm's center with heavy rain and perhaps severe thunderstorms to its south and east," AccuWeather Meteorologist Courtney Travis said.

In this strong storm scenario, the swath from Denver to Minneapolis would be in the heavy snow zone, but it would be a close call between rain and snow near Chicago.

High winds could be the major cause of flight disruptions in lieu of snow, low visibility and thunderstorms over a broad area of the Central states, including Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Pittsburgh.

During high winds and other adverse weather conditions, aircraft often must be more spaced out when landing and taking off, if not totally grounded or detoured. This can lead to major delays and even flight cancellations. Crews and aircraft are then displaced, which can lead to ripple-effect problems across much of the nation.

"Depending on how quickly this storm system strengthens, we could be contending with severe thunderstorms from Arkansas and Louisiana through southern Indiana and western portions of Kentucky and Tennessee," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Randy Adkins said.

There is a second scenario that is being weighed in.

"Should the storm end up being weaker, it would tend to move much farther to the east at a swift pace," Travis said.

In this scenario, colder air, snow and slippery travel would also spread farther to the south and east along the Interstate 70, 80 and 90 corridors and reach parts of the Ohio Valley, eastern Great Lakes and the central and northern Appalachians on Wednesday.

"In this faster, weaker scenario, there is a chance the storm turns far enough to the east to allow some snow and/or a freeze-up in parts of Indiana, Ohio and western Pennsylvania late Wednesday and Wednesday night," AccuWeather Meteorologist Max Gawryla said.

Regardless, if either of the two scenarios occur, or something in between, then major travel disruptions are likely over part of the Central states and the risk of some weather-related disruptions will exist in parts of the South and the East during the middle of the week of Thanksgiving.

So, not only may there be normal heavy holiday traffic on the roads and at the airports, a storm may really throw a wrench into plans during the day and night before Thanksgiving over the Central and Eastern states.

As if the storm east of the Rockies was not enough, it appears a second potent storm will move in from the Pacific Ocean and impact a large part of the West, including California at midweek.

Snow is likely to cause disruptions over the major passes, including along I-80 and perhaps I-5. While rain may greatly benefit fire-ravaged areas of Northern California, slick roads may create dangerous travel for a time.

More than 55 million travelers have plans to venture at least 50 miles away from home from the Friday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after Thanksgiving, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). The holiday travel volume is expected to be second-highest behind 2005 since tracking began in 2000, AAA said.

In terms of Thanksgiving travel, in lieu of any bad weather, there's "nothing worse than Wednesday," the AAA said in its statement. Trips made on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving can be four times longer as commuters mix with holiday travelers, according to AAA.

AccuWeather will continue to provide updates for Thanksgiving travel in the coming days.

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