By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A powerful winter storm lashed much of the eastern United States with rain and snow on Tuesday, threatening to snarl travel plans for millions over the busy Thanksgiving holiday, forecasters said.
Winter storm watches and warnings were in place for large parts of the Ohio River Valley, the interior mid-Atlantic, New England and the Great Lakes as the storm system moves northeast from the Gulf of Mexico area on Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service said.
Moderate to heavy rain was drenching the Gulf Coast into the Tennessee River and freezing rain was coming down from the Ohio Valley into New England ahead of the Thursday holiday, it said. Ice storm warnings were in effect for parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains.
“A complicated storm system will raise holiday travel concerns throughout the Eastern U.S. on Tuesday and Wednesday,” the weather service said.
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Forecasters have predicted that western Pennsylvania and western New York could get 6 to 12 inches of snow on Wednesday before the storm moves into western Maine on Thursday, weather service meteorologist Dan Petersen said.
The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the busiest travel times in the United States. Some 39 million people are expected to travel by road from Wednesday to Sunday, centering on Thanksgiving Day, travel group AAA has said.
Hundreds of airline flights were canceled on Sunday and Monday as the powerful storm moved out of the southern Rocky Mountains across Texas into the South. But only 15 U.S. flights have been called off on Tuesday, according to FlightAware.com, which tracks delays and cancellations.
High winds could ground the giant character balloons in the Macy’s Inc Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York. City regulations bar the huge balloons from flying when sustained winds top 23 miles per hour, and gusts exceed 34 mph.
The storm is combining with a cold front that dropped temperatures to minus 3 Fahrenheit at Saranac Lake, New York, the coldest spot in the contiguous United States on Monday.