Dangerous cross-country storm threatens U.S. holiday travel

Noreen O'Donnell

By Noreen O'Donnell

(Reuters) - A dangerous storm that brought snow and drenching rains to the southwestern United States is threatening Thanksgiving travel for millions of people in the eastern states, weather forecasters said on Saturday.

The storm is expected to bring heavy rain to the Southeast on Tuesday and then turn north and move up the East Coast, possibly disrupting travel through Wednesday, according to the online meteorologists at AccuWeather.com.

"If the storm hugs the coast and develops to its full potential, it could be a flight nightmare, not only for travelers in the East, but also throughout the nation," according to AccuWeather.com's Evan Myers.

The Thanksgiving holiday weekend is one of the most heavily traveled in the United States. Some 39 million people are expected to hit the roads from Wednesday to Sunday, centering around the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday, the travel group AAA said earlier this week.

About 3 million people will fly to their destinations, according to the AAA.

The rain and snow has already been linked to several deaths. It has stranded motorists and caused traffic accidents throughout California, Arizona and Nevada.

In Oakland, California, a man was killed on Thursday when a power line fell and electrocuted him, according to the Contra Costa Times. Another man died trying to avoid debris in a roadway, the newspaper reported.

Early on Saturday morning near Sulphur Springs, Texas, the driver of a bus carrying Willie Nelson's band apparently lost control and crashed into a highway overpass support. One band member, Paul English, broke his hip in the accident.

The National Weather Service said a significant winter storm was expected for the southern Plains states to last through Sunday night.

AccuWeather predicted the storm will hit coastal Texas and Louisiana on Monday, head east along the Gulf Coast on Tuesday and then expand northward.

The exact track of the storm as it heads up the East Coast Tuesday night into Wednesday night is still unknown and holds the key to whether the region will see dry weather, rain or snow, AccuWeather said.

The rain could be heavy enough to delay flights in New Orleans, Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina and other airports, AccuWeather reported.

The National Weather Service said through this weekend, an Arctic front is bringing the coldest weather so far this season -- chilly weather in Texas, sleet and freezing rain to the southern Plains states and very frigid weather expected on the East Coast on Sunday.

(Reporting by Noreen O'Donnell; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Gunna Dickson)