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Travelers brace for snow, ice in Midwest

Friday, December 24, 2010 | 8:49 a.m. CST

CHICAGO — Holiday travelers in the Midwest braced for snow and ice from a storm Friday that was expected to deliver a rare white Christmas to Nashville and possibly Atlanta before rolling into the Northeast.

 

A day after the most densely populated parts of the county got a break from the weather, several inches of snow were expected across parts of the heartland. Up to 8 inches could fall in Iowa and 6 inches in Illinois and Minnesota, with forecasters warning drivers about snow-covered roads and limited visibility.

The storm was expected to crawl south into Tennessee on Saturday, then possibly move north on Sunday. Winter weather advisories were in effect from North Dakota into Kentucky.

"People that are going to Grandma's house," warned Bobby Boyd, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Nashville, "need to get going."

In Georgia, the National Weather Service said 1 to 3 inches of snow could fall across metro Atlanta on Saturday. But it said there was still uncertainty about the storm's path, and that any deviation could affect the total amounts. If the forecast holds, it would be the first time since 1993 that snow fell on Christmas in Atlanta, the weather service said. The last time there was measurable snowfall on Christmas Day was in 1882, when one-third of an inch of snow blanketed the city.

Fair weather helped make the holiday sojourn a not-so-painful experience in much of the country Thursday, even with more people on the move than last year.

Eric and Tatiana Chodkowski, of Boston, were driving with their children , ages 2 and 4, to see relatives in New York. They said forecasts for snow on Sunday made them wonder whether they'd make it back then, as planned. They deemed the roads congested but manageable Thursday, and most people found the nation's airports to be the same way.

Planes took off into windy but accommodating skies at New York's LaGuardia Airport as Steve Kent prepared to fly to Denver for a family ski trip, scoffing at the puny lines.

"I don't find it that difficult," he said. "I think Thanksgiving is harder."

At airports, the long security lines feared over Thanksgiving, when practically everyone is on the move the same day, never materialized, and aren't expected to now. The spread-out nature of the year-end holidays means things won't be quite so cramped.

Travelers may notice that airport screeners are taking a closer look at empty insulated beverage containers like thermoses because air carriers have been alerted about a potential terror tactic involving them, an administration official said.

The official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters, stressed that there is no intelligence about an active terror plot. The Homeland Security Department regularly alerts law enforcement about evolving terror tactics.

The Air Transport Association expects 44.3 million people on U.S. flights between Dec. 16 and Jan. 5 — up 3 percent over the same period a year ago but still below pre-recession travel volume. The average ticket price is $421, up by 5 percent.

The Vino Volo Wine Room at Detroit Metropolitan Airport is benefiting from more travelers, manager Mark Del Duco said Thursday.

"The Christmas mood is more there this year than last," he said, estimating that sales are up 10 percent this season compared with last year as financially confident travelers spend more freely.

Mike Lukosavich, of Harrison Township, Mich., was surprised the first leg of his trip was moving so smoothly when he stopped at rest area on the Ohio Turnpike in Elmore, Ohio, near Toledo.

He, his wife and their 8-month-old daughter were heading to see family in Parkersburg, W.Va. His only headache came when he saw the gas price of about $3 a gallon.

"It's something you have to do to see the family," said Lukosavich, 33.

The AAA has expected overall travel to rise about 3 percent this year, with more than 92 million people planning to go more than 50 miles sometime between now and Jan. 2. More than 90 percent said they would be driving.

Maria Romero, a cashier at the Chevron Food Mart just off Interstate 15 in Barstow, Calif., said she has seen an increase in travelers there, especially families and people from out of state.

"It's wonderful. We need it," she said. "The busier, the better."

Some travelers weren't thrilled about their mode of transportation. Anthony Lauro joined nearly 100 people lined up Thursday morning for a Montreal-bound coach at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's bus terminal in midtown Manhattan. He faced an eight-hour ride to see his fiancee there.

"Flying to Canada is astronomically overpriced," he said.

Helping matters is that the most densely populated parts of the country got a break from the weather Thursday with rain finally stopping in California and a few days away in the East.

But predictions of Friday's storm concerned travelers in the Midwest.

Steve Brown, 50, of Elm Creek, Neb., left Tuesday afternoon and drove all night to beat the storm as it worked its way east. Brown, a grain hauler, was taking his two children to see his mother on the Ohio dairy farm where he grew up.

"I had orders to come home or she was going to come get me," Brown said at the Elmore rest area, where adults filled up on coffee while kids, traveling in pajamas, loaded up on Tater Tots.

After record-breaking snow falls in the East and a treacherous Christmas travel season last year, the ways weather can mess up travel seem to be on plenty of minds.

At LaGuardia, Mike and Martha Lee Mellis waited to fly to Aspen, Colo., with their three young sons. They dreaded a repeat of last winter's ski trip, when a snowstorm hit while they were transferring in Chicago on their way home.

"We had to return via Philadelphia, and I had to rent a car and drive everybody home at 11 at night," Mike Mellis recalled.

His wife had been trying to forget, saying, "I've blocked it all out."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Warren Levinson and Verena Dobnik in New York City; Geoff Mulvihill in Haddonfield, N.J.; David Goodman in Detroit; Eileen Sullivan and Samantha Bomkamp in Washington; Lucas L. Johnson II in Nashville, Tenn.; Michelle Price in Phoenix; Mark Pratt in Boston; and John Seewer in Elmore, Ohio. 


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