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Weather may snarl early holiday travel

By Bryan Long

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Amtrak expects its busiest day of the year Wednesday.

(CNN) -- Wednesday's weather could make heading home for the Thanksgiving holiday an unappetizing experience for some travelers, forecasters say.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers predicts an ugly day with snow, rain and fog hampering travel in some of the biggest cities and on the busiest highways.

"This will cost people a lot of hours of frustration. Whether you're driving, flying, whatever," Myers said.

Most holiday travelers will make their trips by car. AAA expects 82 percent of all holiday travelers to make road trips.

But the airports will be busy, too. The Federal Aviation Administration predicts there will be more flights Wednesday than on any other day this year.

Air travelers should expect regional delays, but FAA spokesman William Shumann said the national picture will be affected more by seasonal travel congestion than weather.

But that could easily change.

Myers forecasts the only sunny spots to be in the Southwest, northern Plains and Florida. "Everybody else is going to get into something," he said.

On the East Coast, residents will wake to a nice day, only to see it degrade into heavy afternoon and evening rain from Washington to New York. Airports could be affected in Baltimore, Maryland, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

According to Myers' forecast:

  • The South will see heavy rains throughout the day, with thick fog expected in the morning. The worst weather will stretch from Louisiana to Georgia.
  • A 70-mile-wide band of snow is expected to cover parts of the Midwest, slowing traffic along Interstate 70 and the I-80/90 corridor in Ohio and Indiana.
  • And on the West Coast, Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, can expect to get soaked.
  • Wednesday's weather will be more of what has battered New Mexico and parts of Texas on Tuesday morning, CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said.

    Severe weather, including rain and snow, will move into the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles Tuesday evening and continue to move east overnight.

    While the day before Thanksgiving is not the busiest travel day of the year -- or even of the holiday season -- the day often provides some of the worst traffic, said Justin McNaull, a spokesman for AAA.

    "You see a mix of rush hour and holiday traffic all at the same time," he said.

    When you add bad weather and speeding drivers, you can get a dangerous mix, McNaull said.

    For a safe trip, AAA suggests planning for a longer drive than usual, adding additional follow distance between cars and driving slower than the posted speed limit.

    Thanksgiving will see more car trips than any other day, but those trips will be spread throughout the day and not just the afternoon and evening.

    At airports, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving brings the highest volume of flights. Last year, more than 51,000 flights took off or landed at the nation's 45 major airports, according to the FAA. A busy weekday typically has 33,000 flights at all airports, the FAA says.

    Shumann predicts that Wednesday may bring long delays for some air travelers but normal flight times for others.

    "This is where the art and challenge of managing air traffic come in," Shumann said.

    It's difficult to say if the weather will combine with the congestion to create big problems, but Shumann said he's optimistic.

    Weather at two of the nation's busiest airports -- Chicago's O'Hare International in Illinois, No. 1, and Dallas-Forth Worth International in Texas, No. 3 -- shouldn't hamper flights, Shumann said.

    The nation's second-busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, Georgia, is expected to see its third consecutive day of fog-related delays, he said.

    Shumann advises travelers to call airlines to check for delays of specific flights or to log on to to see if there are any regional or national problems.

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