Hundreds of flights were canceled and thousands more were delayed Wednesday at the start of what is traditionally the busiest time of the year for holiday travel in the United States because of a sloppy mix of rain and snow along the Northeast.
The mixture cascaded along the East Coast as a nor’easter that formed over the Gulf of Mexico brought rain to some areas and up to a foot of snow was expected in some higher elevations of New England, the National Weather Service said.
Only four-tenths of an inch of snow fell at Pittsburgh International Airport, NWS meteorologist Brad Rehak said, with 2.8 inches on the ground in Ohiopyle and 7 inches in Garrett County, Md.
The FlightStats.com Airport Tracker showed only moderate delays at Pittsburgh International Airport on Wednesday afternoon and evening with only two flights from Newark and Hartford and one to New York canceled.
Airlines had canceled 709 flights within, into or out of the United States by 6 p.m. EST, and 4,021 were delayed, according to online plane tracker Flight-Aware.
Most of the scrubbed flights were at New York City-area and Philadelphia airports and involved regional carriers operating express flights for major airlines, JetBlue and the Delta shuttle between Boston and LaGuardia Airport, according to Houston-based FlightAware.
Some travelers tried to change their plans and catch earlier flights to beat the storm and major airlines waived their rebooking fees. But most planes had been filled.
University of Pittsburgh students Patrick Araya and Uriah West, both 19, waited Wednesday morning at the airport in Findlay to board their US Airways flight home to Philadelphia. It was delayed for at least an hour and switched gates.
“They didn’t say (why it was delayed), but I assume it’s storm-related,” Araya said.
“Hopefully, it’s only an hour,” West said. “This is messing up my plans.”
Dorothy Weiss, 79, of Bethel Park hustled to catch a flight to Newark to visit family for Thanksgiving.
“My (original) flight was canceled. I was supposed to fly out around 11 or 12. They moved me up to an earlier flight,” Weiss said. “I didn’t hear anything. I just got here early and saw it on the marquee.”
Joanne Jordan, 69, and her husband, Dale Noelting, 64, were headed to Norfolk to visit their son and grandchildren. They were flying through Philadelphia, but their flight was delayed only 15 minutes.
“We have a 2 1⁄2-hour layover in Philadelphia, so we have some time,” Jordan said.
More moderate weather is expected for the rest of the holiday weekend in and around Pittsburgh, Rehak said, with a chance of snow showers after 3 p.m. Thursday and a high of 37. Temperatures could reach 45 on Saturday and 55 on Sunday with a chance of showers.
The storm, which forecasters say will taper off to light snow over northern New England by Thanksgiving morning, is expected to move to Eastern Canada by Friday.
State police said traffic along the Pennsylvania Turnpike was moving “pretty well” Wednesday night with no major delays. There were multiple crashes reported along the turnpike in the afternoon “but nothing significant,” a trooper said.
More than 7 inches of snow fell in Breezewood, and Gov. Tom Corbett’s office closed government offices under his jurisdiction in and around Harrisburg, Reading, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.
The wintry weather was not confined to the Northeast. An Alberta clipper left many highways slick in parts of Montana and the Dakotas, and a winter storm warning was issued for parts of Minnesota.
Not everyone was unhappy with the storm. Ski areas across northern New England were pleased by the prospect of the snow luring skiers to the slopes and offering a promising start to the winter season.
The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomburg News contributed to this report.