STORM TO SOCK EAST COAST, CHICAGO AREA

Travelers can give thanks for region’s calmer weather

11/26/2013
BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A man shovels snow in Pittsburgh, a day before a massive storm is expected to dump a mix of rain, snow, and ice on southwestern Pennsylvania before clearing out toward the Northeast.
A man shovels snow in Pittsburgh, a day before a massive storm is expected to dump a mix of rain, snow, and ice on southwestern Pennsylvania before clearing out toward the Northeast.

With millions of Thanksgiving travelers either hitting the road or planning their getaways, the Toledo area enjoyed relatively calm weather Tuesday, but there was much for longer-distance drivers and air travelers to worry about nearby.

The biggest threat to travel tranquility was a developing winter storm working its way up the East Coast that was expected to deliver significant snowfall east of Cleveland and Columbus, including a mix of snow, rain, and ice in southwest Pennsylvania before it clears out to the Northeast later today.

The National Weather Service’s storm-related warnings and watches sprawled east essentially from the I-71 corridor in Ohio and Kentucky, with I-75 just south of Cincinnati in an area expected to get 2 to 4 inches of snow, mixing with rain at times.

A lake-effect snow warning was up, meanwhile, for a two-county area west of South Bend, Ind., that nonetheless could foul travel plans for Toledoans headed to the Chicago area or beyond. The warning area of La Porte County, Indiana, and Berrien County, Michigan, in which snow of more than a foot was possible in isolated spots, affects both I-94 and the Indiana Toll Road. Adjacent counties were under advisories for less intense snow.

Weather in the immediate Toledo area is expected to remain tame through the weekend. Forecasters said brief periods of light snow were possible today and Thursday, but did not predict any accumulations. Temperatures were not expected to reach 40 degrees until Sunday.

At Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport, spokesman Michael Conway said the main holiday-related problem Tuesday was curb-front congestion on the arrivals level, where people picking up out-of-town visitors jockeyed for limited space.

Holiday travelers make their way to their car after arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa. A huge winter storm is expected to have nationwide impact as it causes delays at East Coast airports.
Holiday travelers make their way to their car after arriving at Pittsburgh International Airport in Imperial, Pa. A huge winter storm is expected to have nationwide impact as it causes delays at East Coast airports.

He urged those headed to the airport today for such pickups to use the cell-phone lots to confirm their guests’ arrival, then spring for the $3 it costs to park in a short-term lot for half an hour to receive them and their luggage.

As far as flight delays Tuesday, Mr. Conway said, “We don’t have any problems here at all,” but some East Coast airports were affected by high wind.

Storm trouble was likely to worsen their conditions before they get better, and flight disruptions in New York, Washington, and other big cities tend to ripple across the country. While snow and ice was expected to occur mainly inland today, heavy rain and wind was expected along the East Coast.

“That is going to have a big impact systemwide,” Mr. Conway said.

A foot or more of snow was in the forecast for northwest Pennsylvania, extreme northeast Ohio, and far western New York state.

Clearer skies are expected throughout the region on Thursday, although lingering wind posed a hazard that the traditional cartoon-character balloons might be excluded from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

“At this time, it is too early to make any determinations on the flight of the giant balloons,” said Orlando Veras, a Macy’s spokesman. “On Thanksgiving morning, Macy’s works closely with the NYPD, who, based on real time weather data and the official regulations determine if the balloons will fly and at what heights.”

Balloons have only been grounded once in the parade’s 87-year history, when bad weather kept them from flying in 1971. They’re set to be inflated in Manhattan this evening.

Based on survey responses, AAA expects 43.4 million Americans to travel 50 miles or farther from home during the Thanksgiving holiday travel period, which officially starts today and ends Monday. That’s a 1.5 percent decline from the 44 million who traveled last year, which marked a post-recession peak.

Those who do travel expect to spend about 7 percent less — an average of $465, instead of $498 — on their trips, although average travel distance will be slightly longer: 601 miles instead of 588. And as usual, the overwhelming majority of trips, 90 percent, will be made in private vehicles.

“While the economy continues to improve, the sluggish pace of the recovery is creating uncertainty in the minds of some consumers, and therefore AAA is projecting a slight decline in the number of Thanksgiving travelers this year,” said April Cochran, vice president for public affairs at AAA Northwest Ohio.

Crystal Agler, a marketing assistant at the local auto-club chapter, said that trend has been reflected locally, whether because of economic conditions, colder weather, or the scary forecast for points east.

“Travel information requests haven’t been high. They [AAA Northwest Ohio’s travel-planning staff] have not been as busy at they thought they would be,” she said.

Those who do hit the roads, the auto club’s Ms. Cochran said, will receive “a holiday bonus in the form of lower gas prices, which are at their lowest level for the holiday since 2010.”

The auto club’s national report said regular gasoline can be found for just under $3 per gallon in many states, although as of Tuesday afternoon, sub-$3 gas was rare in Toledo following a price spike to the $3.20s per gallon at many local stations on Friday.

William Witters, of Valparaiso, Ind., waits for a ride in a wheelchair at Chicago Midway International Airport. Lake-effect snow today could make travel to the Windy City difficult for Toledoans.
William Witters, of Valparaiso, Ind., waits for a ride in a wheelchair at Chicago Midway International Airport. Lake-effect snow today could make travel to the Windy City difficult for Toledoans.

The Web site gasbuddy.com listed three Toledo-area filling stations with $2.999 per gallon regular reported by its volunteer spotters Tuesday, but many others charged just over $3. Prices in southeast Michigan tended to be somewhat higher than northwest Ohio, especially closer to Ann Arbor and Detroit.

The Web site listed a Toledo average price of $3.157 per gallon for regular, down 1.9 cents per gallon from Monday but 7.4 cents per gallon higher than a week previous. The local average was 11.4 cents cheaper than Gasbuddy’s national average.

Once they get going, Toledo-area highway travelers should expect minimal construction-related delays, with most of this year’s road work now complete.

An I-75 reconstruction project in Lima, Ohio, requires ramp closings at the State Rt. 81 and State Rts. 117 and ​309 interchanges, and the speed limit is reduced through several ongoing work zones in Cincinnati.

On State Rt. 2, one lane is closed each way between Port Clinton and the Catawba Island interchange for underground mine stabilization, but traffic delays there should be minimal. Those traveling to downtown Cleveland, meanwhile, should be alert to ramp closings associated with the Innerbelt Bridge project.

All full-time Ohio Turnpike lane closings have ended for the season.

The Blade’s news services contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.