Two winter storms blasted the United States on Wednesday, stranding motorists and causing thousands of flight delays as Americans jammed highways and airports to visit family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Scores of vehicles got stuck on Interstate 5 after a ‘bomb cyclone’ – a supercharged winter storm caused by a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure – dumped up to four feet of snow in mountainous areas of the Pacific Northwest.
Drivers reported being stuck for 17 or more hours in blizzard conditions and some spent the night in their vehicles overnight on Tuesday. The road only reopened late on Wednesday evening.
‘We’ve been white knuckling it for the last four hours and sliding around the road,’ said Lisa Chadwick after she stopped in Bend, Oregon, driving north from San Francisco.
A California Highway Patrol unit follows a tow truck next to the median as other vehicles are lined up while stopped on northbound Interstate 5 waiting for the freeway to reopen on Wednesday
Heavy snow is seen above at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in Mammoth Mountain, California, on Tuesday
She had snowchains for her two-wheel drive car, but did not know how to put them on.
Stranded cars made it difficult for plows to clear the freeway. I-5 was closed in both directions late Tuesday because of the storm, but the southbound lanes reopened at Ashland, Oregon early Wednesday.
The northbound lanes of Interstate 5 reopened on Wednesday evening heading from Redding, California, all the way to the Oregon border.
Meanwhile, Southern California is bracing for heavy rains over the next two days that could bring flash flooding.
Long Beach, Malibu, Rancho Palos Verdes, Van Nuys, and Whittier are expected to see some flooding on Thursday, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Authorities have also issued a wind chill alert, as temperatures in some sections of Los Angeles County could dip to 32 degree Fahrenheit.
The Midwest was also hit hard by a storm that clobbered Denver on Tuesday, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago suffering hundreds of delays and cancellations.
The storms hit on one of the busiest travel days of the year, with a near-record 55 million Americans set to journey at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving on Thursday, according to the American Automobile Association.
A total of 32 states – two-thirds of the Continental United States – remains under a storm watch or advisory.
Another major storm is expected to descend on the West Coast over Tuesday and Wednesday, bringing ‘bomb cyclone’ conditions with over two feet of snow to the mountains in the Northwest and possible flash flooding in Southern California
Record-low temperatures are expected in several major cities on Thanksgiving thanks to the first of the two storm systems
The second storm brought snow to the mountains and wind and rain along the coasts of California and Oregon on Tuesday. It’s expected to move inland by the weekend
After parts of Colorado got up to 30 inches of snow on Tuesday, Minneapolis was expected to get as much as 12 inches as the system slid east, said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.
Thursday, November 28: The West and the Great Plains will be blanketed by either rain or snow on Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 29: The massive storm system stretching from California through the Great Plains will move eastward.
Saturday, November 30: The storm continues to move east, this time dumping rain in the Midwest and Southeast. Parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are likely to see snowfall.
The storm, which is packing high winds, will move across upper Michigan and upstate New York toward central Maine, which could get six to 10 inches of snow, the Weather Service forecast.
On the West Coast, heavy rain threatened flash floods from San Diego to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles International Airport told domestic passengers to arrive three hours early as it expected 238,000 passengers and 113,000 vehicles on Wednesday.
‘There has been definitely lots of honking, lots of near accidents that I’ve seen, for sure,’ Daniel Julien, a 24-year-old paralegal from Pasadena, said after making it to the airport.
A silver lining was that rain doused the Cave Fire in Santa Barbara County, which charred 7 square miles of brush and woodlands.
But it brought evacuation warnings to thousands of residents in Santa Barbara suburbs for possible mudslides on fire-charred hills.
On Thanksgiving Day, a second wave of the storm is expected to bring more intense rain and snow across the state of California, the Los Angeles Times reported.
At last one to two inches of rain is expected in coastal and valley areas, with up to three inches in the foothills and at lower elevations in the mountains.
Across the country on Wednesday, 4,083 flights were delayed, and 148 were canceled into or out of the United States by 6.30pm Eastern Standard Time, with Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport tallying the most, according to FlightAware.com.
‘There are apocalyptic storms all over the country and 50mph winds! Why would things not be the worst. Anyway pray 4 me,’ said a Twitter user going by the name of Abigail H., who was leaving O’Hare on Wednesday.
The East Coast was largely unscathed, but wind gusts of up to 40 mph forecast for Thursday morning threatened to sideline the Macy’s New York City Thanksgiving parade’s 16 giant balloons for safety reasons.
Organizers have said they will make the decision on Thursday whether to go ahead.