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Storms slow holiday travel

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A lot of wind and rain is rolling through the Tristate region as the exodus for Thanksgiving destinations is on.

Airport officials recommend travelers arrive at least three hours before their flight departs.

So far, the storms barreling over the mid-Atlantic and Northeast have not sent flight delays or cancellations rippling out beyond the region to other parts of the nation's air network, and forecasters said the storm would start to loosen its grip on the East Coast as the day wore on.

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On Wednesday morning, heavy rain and breezy conditions struck the East Coast from the Carolinas to the northeast, with ice and snow in the Appalachians, western Pennsylvania and western New York.

The storm system, already blamed for at least 11 deaths, threatened to spawn an isolated tornado in the Florida Panhandle.

The Southeast, meanwhile, is set to suffer soaking rain in the coming days, primarily in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

As of early Wednesday, more than 230 flights to, from or within the United States had been canceled, according to the air tracking website FlightAware.com. Most of the scrapped flights were in or out of three major Northeast hubs: Newark Liberty International, Philadelphia International and LaGuardia.

Some of the longest delays were affecting 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 website. The Philadelphia area was under a flood watch with 2-3 inches of rain forecast to fall before colder temperatures turn precipitation to snow.

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. One lane was later reopened in both directions.

The large system has already struck parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, but with temperatures creeping above freezing the outcome was less dramatic there than forecasters had feared.

The storm sprung out of the West and has been blamed for at least 11 deaths, half of them in Texas. It limped across Arkansas with a smattering of snow, sleet and freezing rain that didn't meet expectations.

"It's just really cold. We had drizzle but no snow," said Courtney O'Neal-Walden, an owner of the Dairyette diner on U.S. 270 in Mount Ida, Ark. "You can see (ice) on the power lines but the roads are fine."

She said ominous warnings of a wintery storm kept most people inside — although schools remained open — and few stopped by the diner for Monday's $5.99 special of popcorn shrimp, fries and a medium drink.

This holiday will likely see the most air travelers since 2007, according to Airlines for America, the industry's trade and lobbying group, with the busiest day being Sunday, an estimated 2.56 million passengers. Wednesday is expected to be the second-busiest with 2.42 million passengers.

Ninety percent of travelers this week will drive, according to AAA, and an estimated 38.9 million people — 1.6 percent fewer than last year — are expected to drive 50 miles or more from their home.

In New Jersey, officials advised travelers to check with their airlines and reduce speed on highways as a winter weather advisory was set to take effect shortly before midday across the state's northwest areas.

Meanwhile, forecasters were predicting 5 to 8 inches of snow in Buffalo, more in the northern Adirondacks, and a winter storm watch was posted for central New York state with heavy rain expected in parts of the Hudson Valley.

No major traffic problems were being reported as light rain continued to fall across most of the state Tuesday night. A wintry mix was reported in some northwestern areas, but that was expected to change over to rain as the night progressed.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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