THUNDER BAY – WEATHER DESK – While our region has experienced a mild and mainly dry Christmas week, with some rain across Western Ontario, it is not quite the same across the United States where a powerful winter storm, characterized by blizzard conditions and extreme weather, has wreaked havoc across the northern Plains and is now making its way into the Mid-Atlantic region, creating significant disruptions in travel plans for many Americans returning home from their Christmas holidays.
Blizzard Brings Chaos to the Northern Plains
The storm unleashed heavy winds, snow, and ice primarily on Monday and Tuesday, causing considerable distress in states such as Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming. The affected regions experienced whiteout conditions, leading to reduced visibility and, subsequently, disruptions in both road and air travel.
Flight Delays and Cancellations in the Wake of the Storm
On the day following Christmas, over 7,500 flights within, to, or from the United States experienced delays, as reported by FlightAware tracking statistics. The Federal Aviation Administration cited weather conditions as the primary reason for these delays, although high passenger volumes in the East Coast and popular ski destinations also contributed.
Denver International Airport, a major hub for Southwest Airlines, witnessed 48 percent of departing flights facing delays. Despite this, only 1 percent of departing flights were canceled. Denver recorded nearly 800 delayed flights on that particular Tuesday. Furthermore, airports in Charlotte and Orlando collectively encountered more than 500 delays on the same day.
Pro-Palestinian Protests Block Roads Near Airports
In addition to weather-related concerns, major airlines faced an additional challenge when pro-Palestinian protests blocked roadways leading to airports. At John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, police made 26 arrests for disorderly conduct and traffic obstruction on the Van Wyck Expressway. A similar situation unfolded at Los Angeles International Airport, leading to temporary disruptions around roadway entrances.
Southwest Airlines Dodges Cancellations Amidst Weather Challenges
Despite weather-related delays, Southwest Airlines managed to avoid cancellations, marking a significant improvement from the holiday travel chaos experienced last year. In 2022, Southwest was forced to cancel or significantly delay around 16,900 flights due to inclement weather. Following these disruptions, the Department of Transportation fined Southwest $140 million for multiple law violations.
Road Conditions Slowly Improve in Affected States
By Wednesday, road conditions had started to improve in several affected states. North Dakota lifted travel advisories as temperatures began to rise, and Nebraska highways became accessible again. Colorado had reopened all roads except for a few in the eastern part of the state. However, drivers were cautioned about high winds and blowing snow.
Snow and Rain Continue to Impact Various Regions
The remnants of this week’s blizzard continued to bring light snow to Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Kansas on Wednesday, with additional 2-3 inches of snow expected in some areas. Moreover, a separate snow zone associated with the central U.S. storm moved through the Midwest, with St. Louis potentially seeing its first light accumulation of the season.
Meanwhile, a low-pressure system tracked from the Carolinas to offshore New England, delivering rain to the East Coast. This storm was projected to drop an inch or more of rain along the I-95 corridor from Richmond, Virginia, to southern Maine.
Looking ahead, a series of storms is forecasted to impact the West Coast over the weekend, bringing periods of heavier rain to the Pacific Northwest and California.
As the severe winter storm continues to affect various regions, travellers are advised to stay updated on weather conditions and exercise caution when travelling.
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