Thursday, December 25, 2008

Storms wreak havoc over Midwest, West ( msnbc news)

Storms wreak havoc over Midwest, West

29 weather-related deaths; travelers may spend another night in Chicago
Tom and Kristina Waltz of Vancouver, Wash. play cards with their daughters, Jessica, left, and Samantha on the lower level of the O'Hare Hilton Wednesday, Dec. 24, in Chicago. The Waltz' are spending their second night at O'Hare due to bad weather as they attempt to get to Miami for a cruise.

updated 8:50 p.m. ET Dec. 24, 2008
CHICAGO - With airports across the country recovering from a blast of snow and ice storms, some unlucky holiday travelers stranded for the second night in a row prepared to wake up Christmas morning at the nation's second busiest airport.

Newlyweds Tommy and Siobhan Costello were at O'Hare International Airport on Wednesday for the second night en route to their honeymoon in San Diego.

About 500 flights were canceled at O'Hare on Tuesday, the day the Costellos arrived from their native Ireland. The weather disruptions meant the earliest flight out they could get was Thursday. Since the couple packed for California, they didn't have clothes to venture out into the city where the weather was expected to dip into the single digits Wednesday evening.

"This was supposed to be a pit stop," said 30-year-old Siobhan Costello, who wandered the terminal hallways with her husband. "But there's nothing you can do."

Improving situation
Airline officials said the Costellos were among a dwindling group of stranded passengers. About 100 flights were canceled early Wednesday, but as the day progressed and the weather improved, the cancellations dropped off and delays shortened to between 30 and 45 minutes.

City of Chicago Aviation Department spokesman Greg Cunningham said airlines at O'Hare requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night.

Airports across the country recovered from a barrage of snow and ice storms Wednesday, with some conditions improving, but highways remained dangerously slippery in some areas.

At least 29 people were killed in crashes on rain- and ice-slickened roads across the nation's midsection Tuesday and Wednesday.

The New York metro area's Newark airport was experiencing delays of more than four hours, and Kennedy was seeing delays of three hours, the Federeal Aviation Administration reported.

"The airlines are dealing with nothing but unhappy customers," said Mike Conway, spokesman for Detroit's Metropolitan Airport, where delays were reported because of conditions elsewhere in the country.

Hazardous driving
The weather service posted winter storm warnings and advisories for large parts of the West, plus parts of the Midwest and the Northeast

Snow and ice hamper holidays
Dec. 24: Record snowfall in the Northwest and wet weather heading toward much of the East has made traveling difficult both in the air and on the road.

Driving conditions were still tough in Oregon's Portland metro area, where many side streets were clogged with snow and motorists were required to have tire chains, unless they had four-wheel drive and tires designed for hazardous weather. More snow fell in the region Wednesday, followed by rain that would likely freeze overnight.

Despite more snow falling Wednesday in the Seattle area, operations at Sea-Tac Airport were back to normal Wednesday, said spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt. She said the only flight cancellations were caused by delays or cancellations at other airports.

"I've lived here 16 years and this is the first time I've thought 'I wish it would rain!'" Betancourt said.

The weather service said she could get her wish, at least briefly, with snow showers changing to rain Christmas Eve.

Power outages
Oregon's largest utility, PGE, said it had restored service to 265,000 customers since the storm arrived Friday, but 47,000 were still blacked out Wednesday.

Motorists in Michigan had to cope with drifting snow in places in addition to ice-covered pavement.

Click for related content
Bad weather delays frustrate holiday travelers
Readers share weather, travel woes

"It looks like all areas should see a white Christmas," meteorologist Dave Kook said from the weather service office in Oakland County's White Lake Township. "There's enough snow on the ground that it won't all melt away with the rain."

Amtrak also reported improvement Wednesday. Trains out of Chicago and elsewhere were leaving on time — or relatively close to it — unlike Tuesday when several trains were canceled and some 600 furious travelers waited for as much as 22 hours for delayed trains at Chicago's Union Station, spokesman Marc Magliari said.

Also Wednesday, an avalanche in the Rocky Mountains killed two snowmobilers in northern Utah. The Utah Avalanche Center warned people not to venture into the backcountry.