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Published: Thursday, 11/25/2004

Bad weather slows travel for holiday; gusting rain, snowfall affect airlines, motorists

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Wind-driven rain soaked the Toledo area yesterday, with snow increasingly mixing in as the day wore on, complicating one of the busiest holiday travel days of the year.

Delays mounted at major airports in the region and throughout the East, stranding some air passengers for up to three hours.

Tornadoes killed at least four in the South, while Toledo and Detroit braced for their first snowfalls of the season last night. Snow started accumulating by early afternoon in Hillsdale and in some areas the snow was mixed with a liberal glaze of ice.

Sustained winds briefly exceeded 30 mph at Toledo Express Airport and Metcalf Field, while gusts over 40 mph were reported at many locations, including 48 mph in Findlay.

Rachael Jablonski, 15, left, and Taylor Parks, 14, wait to board a train with Taylor's stepsister, Jessica Genaro, 9, and her dad, Tony Genaro, and grandparents Ellie and Russell Patton. Rachael Jablonski, 15, left, and Taylor Parks, 14, wait to board a train with Taylor's stepsister, Jessica Genaro, 9, and her dad, Tony Genaro, and grandparents Ellie and Russell Patton.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

As of 7 p.m., 0.92 inches of rain had fallen at Toledo Express, while 1.73 inches of rain was measured in Lima.

The rain and winds made driving hazardous. Accident calls in Toledo were so numerous at times that police did not respond to minor collisions, directing motorists to go to police stations instead to file reports.

Travelers who got going early in the day fared the best, though they weren't always happy about it.

"I'm tired. It's too early," said Rachael Jablonski, a Rossford High School cheerleader traveling with a friend and relatives to Chicago for today's State Street Parade. She protested while waiting at Martin Luther King, Jr., Plaza for the 6:30 a.m. westbound Amtrak train, which showed up about 35 minutes late. The predawn wake-up call yesterday should help Miss Jablonski and freshman classmate Taylor Parks prepare for the parade. The Americheer all-stars with whom they will perform are supposed to get together four hours before the event's step-off at 10 a.m. Toledo time. Bands from Maumee and Defiance also are scheduled to be in the parade.

Shelly Genaro, Miss Parks' mother, said the Chicago-bound party of nine had decided to take the train because driving a van would cost just as much. The fact that snow was advancing on Chicago at daybreak didn't make Ms. Genaro regret the group's travel choice, either.

The four-day holiday weekend was expected to be the busiest one in four years. Travel volume at airports was brisk and traffic on area highways increased as the day went on. Ohio Turnpike spokesman Lauren Dehrmann said westbound traffic attempting to exit at I-280 in Stony Ridge backed up five miles, prompting officials to post signs advising motorists to use I-75 instead.

Barb Hogan, a spokesman at Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport, said that while security checkpoint lines moved fairly quickly, long queues developed at ticket counters yesterday morning and were expected to return during the evening rush.

The gusty winds felled power lines in scattered locations, and about 1,000 Toledo Edison customers were in the dark as of 8 p.m., spokesman Chuck Krueger said. Small clusters of outages were reported in Whitehouse, Genoa, South Toledo, and West Toledo, as well as scattered outages from the Indiana border to Port Clinton.

Wind also blew the steel lids off three cars in a CSX freight train that was crossing a bridge over the Maumee River. While no one was hurt and minimal damage occurred, the rail line was blocked for several hours until equipment could be brought in to remove the heavy covers.

Twisters spawned from the same weather system swept through the Gulf Coast states early in the day, causing single deaths in four states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama - and injuries and damage throughout the region. At least a dozen tornadoes were reported in Texas, on the heels of four days of drenching rain.

As much as seven inches of snow was reported near Kansas City, while six was expected in Chicago. Locally, Hillsdale County was forecast to receive the highest snowfall from the storm - three to five inches. One to two inches was forecast for Toledo, Findlay, and Sandusky, while Bryan was expected to get two to four.

While operations were fairly smooth at Toledo Express Airport, thunderstorms in Atlanta and Cincinnati caused flight delays during the morning.

"We fly a lot. We'll just roll with the punches," said Steve Hanson of Sylvania, who with his wife and their four children were headed to Hendersonville, N.C., with the Toledo-Atlanta leg of the trip delayed at least an hour.

Wife Kim added that the family had packed books, iPods, and a day's change of clothing in each person's carry-on bag.

"We went to Italy last August, with the grandparents," Mrs. Hanson said. "If we can handle that trip, we can handle anything."

Trey Cook ended up taking a nap on a chair in the airport terminal after his wife's trip from Pensacola, Fla., was delayed first in Pensacola and then in Atlanta. Mr. Cook is living temporarily in Walbridge while he works on a barge construction project at the Toledo Shipyard, and this will be his wife's first visit to the area.

"She wants to see a little bit of Ohio," Mr. Cook said. The couple plan to drive today to Carrollton, Ky., to visit their daughter for Thanksgiving, then return to Walbridge on Saturday.

Fourteen members of the Reamsnyder family - ranging in age from 11 months to 80 years and living in Toledo, Curtice, Perrysburg, and Williston - boarded the same train as the Rossford cheerleaders to travel to a family gathering in Eden Prairie, Minn., near Minneapolis.

"We always go on Thanksgiving, and took the train this year to do something different," said Diana Reamsnyder of Curtice. "We have some people who are not exactly crazy about flying."

The first significant snowfall of the season is usually accompanied by a spate of traffic accidents as motorists adjust to the weather, said Sgt. Tom Curran at the Ohio Highway Patrol's post in Milan.

"They have to re-learn their winter driving habits again," Sergeant Curran said.

The keys are to slow down and leave room behind the motorist ahead, he said, adding that driving a four-wheel drive vehicle doesn't offer any extra braking capability on snow or ice.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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