Rain, snow and wind in the West turned an already frustrating holiday travel season into a nightmare for drivers on one of the busiest post-Christmas travel days.
Holiday travelers in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and San Francisco could see delays into Friday, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.
To the north of Los Angeles and at higher elevations, up to 3 feet of snow could fall, Guy said.
Interstate 5 over Grapevine pass, which is northeast of Los Angeles, closed late Wednesday night into Thursday morning due to heavy snowfall and stuck vehicles, the California Highway Patrol Fort Tejon said.
In the Tejon Pass area, drivers and passengers struggled to push cars out of the snow Thursday morning.
“We just saw a couple of snow plows driving on the 5 south heading out of the #Grapevine closure zone,” a driver tweeted. “Hopefully that’s a sign of it opening soon!”
About 1 to 2 inches of rain fell across Southern California on Thursday as the storm system moves into the Four Corners region.
Storm heads for central US
By Saturday, the system will intensify over the Central Plains, with periods of heavy snow expected to form to the north and west of the low pressure center.
Snow is expected to fall heavily at times from the central Rockies, through the High Plains and into the Dakotas. Gusty winds will cause blowing snow and poor visibility at times.
Winter storm watches have been posted for areas of eastern Colorado, eastern Wyoming, Kansas and Nebraska. Widespread snowfall totals of 10-18 inches is forecast across Nebraska, the Dakotas and northern Minnesota through Monday. Minneapolis is likely to see a mix of rain, snow and ice through Monday.
Out ahead of the system, warm weather is expected to linger, causing rain and thunderstorms for many across the Central Plains and into much of the eastern US Saturday and Sunday.
Temperatures ahead of this system are expected to remain 10-30 degrees above average in the East through Monday. Once the cold front passes, temperatures will fall closer to normal values for this time of year.
Roads congested to begin with
Rain or shine, high traffic already makes holiday travel tricky. And this season, more Americans are traveling than ever recorded, according to a statement from AAA.
From December 21 to January 1, 115.6 million people will travel, the statement said. That is up by 4.3 million. And almost 90% of those travelers are expected to take to the road.
The worst expected day for travel? Thursday. The day after Christmas is expected to reach afternoon delays reaching nearly double the drive times without congestion in major cities, the statement read.
“Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays,” said Paula Twidale, vice president of AAA Travel.
But it’s happened before
While the day-after-Christmas traffic might not mix well with bad weather, the two have been linked before.
In 1969, 2002 and 2010, storms struck post-Christmas, the National Weather Service reported.
A storm moving north along the East Coast beginning on Christmas night 1969 became the third greatest snow storm to hit Albany, bringing a total of 26.7 inches of snow, the weather service said.
Flights were cancelled Christmas night in 2002 and many travelers left stranded at the airport when a snow storm hit the northeast bringing over 20 inches of snow, the weather service said. The area was struck again by another storm just after New Year’s Day.
In 2010, the days after Christmas brought wind gusts up to 70 mph and up to 2 feet of snow to the northeast. Snowfall rates reached 1 to 3 inches an hour across the region, according to the weather service.