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New England snow snarls holiday travel, sparks outages

Travelers make their way to trains in Grand Central Station, New York
Travelers make their way to trains in Grand Central Station, New York

By Zach Howard

CONWAY, Mass (Reuters) - A wintry storm socked New England states with a mix of heavy snow and freezing rain on Wednesday, sparking power outages and delaying some pre-Thanksgiving flights on one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Roughly 17,000 customers from Maine to New York were without electricity by midafternoon after heavy snow toppled trees, limbs and power lines in some places.

Rain eased up in the Mid-Atlantic after downpours overnight, but as much as 10 inches of snow was forecast across the higher elevations of upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine by afternoon, when the storm was expected to end, the National Weather Service said.

" high-impact winter storm will adversely affect holiday travel early this morning and into this afternoon," NWS said in a winter storm warning.

"People should plan their travel accordingly and be prepared to allow plenty of extra time to reach their destination."

By midafternoon, power outages included 9,800 customers in Maine, 3,100 in New Hampshire, 2,800 in Vermont, and roughly 1,000 customers in New York.

In southern Vermont, utility crews scrambled to repair lines knocked out by 8 inches of heavy wet snow, said Central Vermont Public Service spokeswoman Christine Rivers.

In Maine, up to 10 inches of snow was predicted for the mid-state region around Bangor and Orono, with freezing rain expected along the coast. State police urged drivers to go slow as roads turn slippery or to avoid road travel altogether, if possible.

The day before Thanksgiving is a notoriously busy travel day, as friends and families gather to share the annual feast to commemorate the Pilgrims' celebration of the good harvest of 1621.

On the roads, some 38.2 million Americans are expected to drive 50 miles or more away from home between November 23 and 27, up 4 percent from last year and the highest since 2007, said travel group AAA.

Airports were bracing for roughly 23.2 million people expected to fly U.S. carriers' domestic and international routes over the Thanksgiving holiday period, according to industry group ATA.

While there were no major tie-ups at Boston's Logan Airport, numerous planes had slight delays and several flights to New York City and Toronto were canceled, said Massport's Logan spokesman Phil Orlandella.

"Yesterday we handled about 100,000 people and we expect to do the same, or somewhere near there, today," Orlandella said.

New England carrier Cape Air canceled most flights to or from Maine, New Hampshire, New York's Adirondacks region and Vermont due to the bad weather, Orlandella said.

"The heavy snow has avoided major cities in the Northeast - it's been well north, and north of Boston -- but these cities got hit with a lot of rain last night, and locally gusty winds, and that has flights backed up," said Alex Sosnowski, expert senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.

With the storm moving out to sea overnight, strong winds currently buffeting New York City should die down by Thursday morning for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, Sosnowski said.

The parade's huge inflatable balloons typically are grounded when winds exceed a danger threshold of about 34 miles per hour, Sosnowski said.

"There is some 'canyon effect' there in New York City - the air rushes in between the buildings. But tomorrow, winds should average 8 - 15 miles per hour, with gusts to 25," he said.

Amtrak had no storm-related problems with its northeastern train service by midmorning, said spokesman Cliff Cole.

In the Pacific Northwest, a strong storm that pounded the region in prior days had tapered off, but a second one was seen delivering fierce winds to the area on Thanksgiving Day, forecasters said.

The Cascade Mountains, the Coastal Range and the Rockies also may get over a foot of snow in the next two days, the National Weather Service said.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)