Storms snarl Thanksgiving travel in US

Daniel WOOLLS
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Snow continues to fall after a blizzard struck overnight on November 27, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Snow continues to fall after a blizzard struck overnight on November 27, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota (AFP Photo/Stephen Maturen)

Washington (AFP) - A pair of storms packing heavy snow and hurricane-force winds wreaked havoc Wednesday for Americans on the move for the Thanksgiving holiday.

On one of the busiest travel days of the year in America -- an estimated 55 million people planning to drive or fly -- highways in the West and Midwest were closed because of snow and hundreds of flights were canceled.

A cherished staple -- giant, colorful character balloons floating through Manhattan during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade -- might be grounded for Thursday's festivities because of gusting winds in the Big Apple.

"An extremely active weather pattern is in place across much of the US," the National Weather Service said.

A snow storm that caused near white-out blizzard conditions in Colorado dumped a foot of snow in Wyoming on Tuesday, and was barreling eastward toward the Great Lakes region in the central US.

Ploughs worked through the night at the airport in Minneapolis, a snow-savvy city girding for possibly its biggest November dump ever.

At the airport in Denver, which was hit with a foot of snow, nearly 500 flights were canceled and another 500 were delayed.

On Monday night, 1,000 people slept at the airport.

Among them was Sonya Washington, bound for Thanksgiving with family in Atlanta, who sat on a plane for two hours as the snow fell until her flight was canceled. The next possible direct trip is Thursday night.

"Thanksgiving is over then," Washington told the Denver Post.

Out west, a dangerous storm hit southern Oregon and northern California that meteorologists are calling a "bomb cyclone" -- a rapidly intensifying winter storm caused by a precipitous drop in atmospheric pressure.

"The drop typically creates violent weather that arrives like a bomb going off," The Oregonian newspaper said.

It dumped a foot of snow, forced roads to close and prompted warnings for people to just stay home.

One wind gust Tuesday in Lake Tahoe, Nevada was clocked at 93 miles (155 kilometers) per hour. Hurricane force begins at 74 mph.

The US Northwest has not been hit by such a powerful storm since 1962, said Marc Spilde of the National Weather Service.

"This storm threatens to bring rain and mountain snow to much of California, including places like San Francisco and Sacramento, places that were largely spared by the past week's rain," said Accuweather senior meteorologist Brian Thompson.