Santa brings snow to much of North America
Frightful weather walloped North America Thursday as holiday travelers dug out from days of delays due to snow and ice, AFP reported.
The National Weather Service predicted that a cold rain in the Pacific Northwest, a region hit by unusual snows in recent days, will mix into a mess of water and slush but help the airports there work through a backlog of stranded travelers.
Holiday revelers hoping to hit the slopes in the Mountain West were in for a cold run with blizzard warnings posted for the ski resorts of Colorado. Wind gusts in Telluride, Colorado could reach 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers).
Grand Junction, Colorado faced a 100 percent chance of a White Christmas, and the expected accumulation of almost a foot led to an avalanche warning.
"By tonight, hazardous conditions will intensify with many road expected to become impassible due to adverse conditions in heavy snow and blowing snow," the weather service said. "Local whiteout conditions are probable."
Two men died Wednesday in the Rocky Mountain state of Utah when they were caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling, the Salt Lake Tribune reported.
But for holiday air travelers, stranded earlier in the week, grounded flights ceded to clearer skies Thursday. The Federal Aviation Administration showed few flight holdups across the country as stranded travelers started their long-delayed trips home.
Delays were shorter than 15 minutes in most of the United States, although wind was keeping some planes on the ground in Las Vegas, Nevada. Canada also reported fewer delays, with Vancouver airport reporting just five flight cancellations.
Late Wednesday a Washington-bound jet getting ready for take-off at Chicago's O'Hare airport, the country's second busiest, skidded off the runway after hitting some ice, CNN reported.
No one was hurt in the incident, but passengers were forced to rebook flights.
At least nine other deaths were also being blamed on the extreme weather of recent days, including a woman and her seven-month-old son killed Wednesday in a car crash in Wisconsin.
In Seattle, 18 passengers and seven Alaska Airlines crew were given medical attention at the airport when a chemical leak during de-icing operations leaked fumes into the cabin shortly before takeoff.
"While the aircraft was being de-iced, some fumes got into the airplane," airport spokeswoman Terri-Ann Betancourt told AFP. The passengers and crew were checked for throat and eye irritation after Flight 528 to Burbank, California, was evacuated, she said.
Nearly 64 million Americans are expected to travel during the end-of-year holiday season, either by road, rail or air, a two-percent decline from the period last year, the American Automobile Association predicted.
In Canada, meteorologists are predicting the first coast-to-coast white Christmas since 1971.
And the weekend outlook is less than sunny. In Chicago, warmer weather is likely to bring rain, even thunderstorms and the National Weather Service warned of floods.
"Runoff from heavy rainfall and the melting of the snow and ice already on the ground, along with the soil only able to absorb a minimal amount of moisture due to being mostly frozen, will create the potential for significant flooding from Friday night though the weekend," the service said.