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Travelers largely spared Thanksgiving gridlock

NBC News
NBC News
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Updated: 11/28/2013 5:24 am
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CBS) - A wet and blustery storm along the East Coast made driving hazardous and tangled up hundreds of flights Wednesday but didn't cause the all-out gridlock many Thanksgiving travelers had feared.

Many travelers marveled at how orderly and anxiety-free the airports were during what's typically one of the busiest days of the year.

One big question lingered in New York: Will high winds ground Snoopy and the other giant cartoon-character balloons at the Macy's parade on Thanksgiving Day?

The storm unleashed wind-driven rain along the Northeast's heavily populated Interstate 95 corridor from Richmond, Va., to the tip of Maine. New York City had 2 1/2 inches of rain and felt wind gusts of about 50 mph.

Parts of upstate New York saw between 3 and 9 inches of snow, the National Weather Service said. The storm dropped 1 to 3 inches of snow in parts of West Virginia.

Emerging from the weather gantlet was Katie Fleisher, who made it by car from Portsmouth, N.H., through rain and fog to Boston's Logan Airport with little trouble and discovered to her amazement that the panicked, cranky crowds she expected were nonexistent.

"We thought it would be busier here. But there've been no lines, and it has been really quiet," said Fleisher, whose plan was to fly to Pittsburgh.

Strong winds could prevent the giant balloons from taking flight this year at the Macy's parade. Safety rules that specify wind speeds were enacted after a spectator was seriously injured in 1997 in an accident involving an out-of-control balloon.

By Wednesday night, around 300 flights had been canceled, mostly in Philadelphia, New York and Newark, N.J., according to the tracking website FlightAware.com. But that was a tiny fraction of the nearly 32,000 flights that were scheduled to, from or within the U.S., the site said. And the weather in many places improved as the day wore on.

It was a dramatic improvement from Wednesday morning, when CBS News correspondent Terrell Brown reported that more than 5,400 flights were delayed across the country.

Some of the longest delays on Wednesday affected Philadelphia-bound flights, which were being held up at their points of origin for an average of about two hours because of the weather, according to FlightAware. Roads there were snarled. A multi-vehicle crash closed the westbound lanes of the Schuylkill Expressway -- Interstate 76 -- in the Philadelphia area after eastbound lanes were closed due to flooding on what is traditionally the year's busiest travel day.

Later in the day, however, at a rest stop on I-95 outside Boston, a Vermont family traveling to Sharon, Mass., was relieved that the roads weren't that congested and the weather didn't prove to be too much trouble.

"We didn't think we were going to get out today because of freezing rain, but it has been great," Liz Kleinberg said.

The storm, which developed in the West over the weekend, has been blamed for at least 12 deaths, five of them in Texas.

National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro said the storm was "fairly typical" for this time of year.

"Obviously, it's ill-timed because you have a lot of rain and snowfall in areas where people are trying to move around town or fly or drive out of town. ... But, fortunately, we're at this point going to start seeing a steady improvement in conditions across the mid-Atlantic and Northeast," he said.

More than 43 million people are expected to travel over the long holiday weekend, according to AAA. About 39 million of those will be on the roads, while more than 3 million people are expected to fly.

Travelers had some things to be thankful for this year.

The Federal Aviation Administration last month lifted restrictions on most personal electronic devices during takeoffs and landings, and some airlines, including American, have already begun allowing passengers to stay powered up from gate to gate.

And on the ground, gas prices dipped to an average of $3.29 a gallon.

CBS/AP
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