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Stormy weather disrupts holiday travel

Plane slides off runway in Michigan

From Bryan Long

Bad weather hampered drivers sturggling to get out of town.
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Amtrak expects its busiest day of the year Wednesday.
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(CNN) -- Holiday travelers were stuck with long waits for flights at several major airports Wednesday as severe weather hit the eastern half of the United States.

CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said pre-Thanksgiving travel was "like the movie 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' " as Wednesday's weather left "no way to get from here to there." (Readers share travel tales)

The delays remained heavy into the evening as thunderstorms swept the South, snow fell in the Midwest and heavy rain pushed along the East Coast. (Radar map)

In Michigan, Northwest Airlines Flight 1933, a DC-9 with 90 passengers on board, slid off a runway as it landed at Lansing's Capital City Airport. No injuries were reported, said airport spokeswoman Helen Schlientz.

The plane -- which originated in Rochester, New York, with a stop in Detroit -- landed in Lansing about 5:15 p.m., according to Northwest's Web site.

Schlientz said snow began falling in Lansing about noon and had been heavy since about 3 p.m. But she said she did not know if the weather played a role in the incident.

Parts of southern Michigan will likely see heavy snow overnight, accumulating up to 8 inches, said CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano.

Rally Caparas, an air traffic expert with Travelocity Business, said travelers experienced long delays at many major Eastern airports.

"A whole lot of [travel] volume and a whole lot of weather means a whole lot of delays," Caparas said. The volume of travelers was at its peak between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., he said.

On Wednesday evening, busy O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, reported weather-related delays averaging 4 hours and 27 minutes.

Waits were also long in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the airport was experiencing delays averaging 2 hours and 41 minutes.

Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, reported delays averaging 1 hour and 36 minutes. And New York's La Guardia Airport had delays averaging 1 hour and 16 minutes.

The outlook was brighter out West, where some precipitation fell in the Northwest and the northern Rocky Mountains.

"The western half of the United States isn't even worth talking about," Caparas said. "They're having a great day."

Seasonal congestion only added to the problems created by stormy weather. The Federal Aviation Administration predicted more flights will take place on Wednesday than on any other day this year.

Some of the nation's highways were just as bad, with most holiday travelers making their trips by car. AAA travel club expected 82 percent of all holiday travelers to make road trips.

Drivers on Interstate 20 faced blinding rain and tornado warnings from Louisiana to Alabama in the early morning.

Later in the day, The Associated Press reported traffic backed up 50 miles on the Massachusetts Turnpike, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike was smoother, with tolls suspended due to a collectors' strike.

Tornadoes in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi left four dead. (Full story) That storm system then moved east into Florida and Georgia.

A broader band of heavy rain pushed north into Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio.

Tornado watches were in effect until late in the evening for portions of the South and Midwest, according to the National Weather Service.

On the East Coast, residents awoke to a nice day but saw it degrade, with heavy rain continuing into the evening from Savannah, Georgia, to Boston, Massachusetts.

Americans traveling to join friends and family for Thanksgiving were expected to brave crowds above pre-9/11 levels for the first time since the attacks, according to an AAA survey. (Full story)

While the day before Thanksgiving is typically not the busiest travel day of the year on the roads, 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.

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.

Overall, weather conditions will improve Thursday, Marciano said, though temperatures will tumble in the East and snow will fall on parts of the Northwest.

The only snow accumulation in the forecast for the holiday is in Ohio and Michigan, with a mix of rain and frozen precipitation expected in western Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

"By Friday morning, it will start to feel a little bit more like Christmas," he said.

Saturday and Sunday, which will each see almost the same number of travelers as Wednesday, are expected to be wet and colder.

Myers forecasts rain throughout the Great Lakes on Saturday with snow into parts of Chicago and northern Michigan.

Sunday will bring significant snow to parts of Colorado and Kansas. Rain will spread up the East Coast from Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.

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.

At airports, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving typically 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 said.

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