Hazardous winter weather could threaten holiday travel across the U.S.

Just as travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, an artic front in the Midwest and and record-breaking cold temperatures along the Gulf Coast and in the Eastern U.S. could bring dangerous conditions.


Travelers arrive for flights at the  O'Hare International Airport, in Chicago, on December 16.
Travelers arrive for flights at the O’Hare International Airport, in Chicago, on December 16. Scott Olson | Getty Images

Dangerous winter weather conditions across the country will add extra challenges to an already-stressful season as millions of Americans travel for the holidays this week, the National Weather Service warned Wednesday.

Americans are traveling for the holidays in numbers not seen since before the pandemic, with nearly 113 million people expected to travel at least 50 miles from home this holiday season, according to the American Automobile Association. It’s the third-busiest travel year since AAA began tracking the data in 2000.

The pressure on airlines is leading to thousands of canceled, or delayed, flights and skyrocketing airfares. A handful of airlines already are rebooking flights for customers as the weather makes travel more difficult — and potentially deadly.

An arctic cold front could cause temperatures to rapidly drop, creating flash-freeze conditions on roadways across the central and southern plains, the National Weather Service said. Heavy snowfall and wind gusts could lead to tree damage and power outages near the Great Lakes.

Meanwhile an extremely cold airmass could hit at least 26 states along the Gulf Coast and in the Eastern U.S., causing some coastal flooding and creating record-breaking low temperatures.

Exposure to the severe windchill in the region could lead to frostbite, hypothermia and death, meteorologists warned — and will be made even more dangerous in some areas by the prospect of blizzard conditions, according to NWS in Des Moines, Iowa.

“What adds to the rarity of this event is that significant blowing snow and possible blizzard conditions may occur at the same time,” the NWS tweeted on Wednesday. “People may have little to no experience of these combined conditions.”

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