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UPDATE: Midwest storm slows holiday travel as drivers brace for snow, ice

Friday, December 24, 2010 | 12:52 p.m. CST; updated 10:24 a.m. CST, Monday, January 31, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa — A storm that promised to bring a white Christmas to much of the Midwest had dumped 9 inches of snow in Iowa by Friday morning and was moving east, where a rare bit of holiday snow was expected as far south as Atlanta.

The storm was expected to dip south into Tennessee and Georgia on Saturday, then perhaps move north Sunday. Winter weather advisories were in effect from Kansas east to Kentucky and from Minnesota south to Arkansas on Friday.

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 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.

The snow made traveling tough Friday in northeastern Iowa, where the bulk of the storm hovered.

Scott and Lori Whiting left Chicago for Colorado Springs, Colo., on Thursday evening with their nine children. By Friday morning, they had only made it to Des Moines, a trip that normally takes about four hours, Lori Whiting said.

"The cars are really sliding around up there," Lori Whiting said. "It's kind of slushy. Some parts it's packed, and you don't think it's going to be slick and all of a sudden your car is fishtailing."

There were few snow plows on the road, she said, but Scott Whiting got into a fender bender with one in the parking lot of a Des Moines truck stop. He was driving a car, while his wife and children traveled in a van. Still, the family was in good spirits and the children were singing carols.

Lori Whiting said they hoped to make it to Colorado Springs in time to celebrate Christmas Eve.

"Depending on the number of potty breaks, you understand," she said.

Many people traveled Thursday in hope of beating the foul weather.

Eric and Tatiana Chodkowski, of Boston, drove 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."

Long security lines were feared over Thanksgiving, when practically everyone was on the move the same day, but with the year-end holidays spread out, such problems hadn't developed by Friday and weren't expected to over the weekend.

Travelers could see airport screeners taking a closer look at empty insulated beverage containers like thermoses because air carriers were 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 was $421, up by 5 percent.

The Vino Volo Wine Room at Detroit Metropolitan Airport was 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 were up 10 percent this season compared with last year.

The AAA predicted 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."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Karen Hawkins in Chicago; Warren Levinson and Verena Dobnik in New York City; David Goodman in Detroit; Eileen Sullivan and Samantha Bomkamp in Washington; Michelle Price in Phoenix; and Mark Pratt in Boston.

 


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