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Risky Weather Conditions during Thanksgiving Travel

(Bloomberg) -- Travel conditions will deteriorate north and west of Interstate 95 from Virginia to New England as snow from a powerful storm moves up the U.S. East Coast tomorrow on the eve of the Thanksgiving Day holiday.

As much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) may fall from Virginia into New York, while as much as a foot could pile up across northern New England, said Jim Hayes, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. New York City may get 4 to 6 inches, with northern areas possibly getting 8, said Brian Ciemnecki, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton, New York.

“The snowfall will significantly impact holiday travel, making driving dangerous at times,” the weather service said in its winter storm watch.

An estimated 46.3 million travelers will make trips of 50 miles (80 kilometers) or more to reach celebrations for the U.S. holiday, which falls on Nov. 27 this year, according to AAA. More than 89% of those journeys will be by car.

“I think the earlier they can go, the better off they will be,” Hayes said. “Travel conditions will deteriorate on Wednesday.”

The system should end in New York City by the time the holiday dawns.

Thanksgiving Travel

During the six-day Thanksgiving holiday period, from today through Nov. 30, the number of trips of 50 miles or more increases 54%, compared with the 23% jump from Christmas to New Year’s Day, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Winter storm warnings and watches stretch from North Carolina to Maine, including New York, Philadelphia and Boston, the weather service said. The storm will reach Washington and Philadelphia early tomorrow and spread northward into New York and New Jersey during the course of the day, Hayes said.

The storm will start as rain overnight in New York transitioning to snow by mid-day tomorrow, Ciemnecki said. The heaviest amounts will be to the north and west of the city.

Snow predictions for New York have increased through the past few days as computer forecast models give a better idea of how the storm will act as it comes up the coast. Ciemnecki said even relatively minor deviations in the track could change snowfall amounts.

Forecast Disagreements

There is some dissent in the prediction. Rob Carolan, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services Inc., said he believes the weather service snow totals are too high.

While the storm will cause travel problems, it will probably leave less snow than the weather service is forecasting because it will have to contend with a lot of warm air still lingering across the eastern U.S., said Carolan from his office in Nashua, New Hampshire.

As the storm moves up the East Coast today, it will bring rain throughout the South, and that will start changing to snow as it comes north.

Hayes said heavy snow will most likely reach from western Virginia through Maryland into eastern Pennsylvania and then across northern New Jersey and New York’s Hudson River Valley. As much as 8 inches may fall in that area.

“The weather could be a real problem further north and west of I-95,” Hayes said.

New England

By the time the storm reaches New England, it will probably have grown stronger, so interior portions of the six-state region from western Massachusetts across Vermont and New Hampshire could get as much as 12 inches, Hayes said.

The forecast has also shifted in Boston, which now may receive 4 to 6 inches, the weather service said.

Just to Boston’s north and west, accumulations may range from 6 to 10 inches, said Benjamin Sipprell, a weather service meteorologist in Taunton, Massachusetts.

“For the most part we have a classic nor’easter going on here,” Sipprell said.

Hayes said the areas close to I-95 will be on the dividing line between snow and rain, making forecasts there particularly difficult. He said the stretch between Boston and Providence will be the most problematic.

Battle Lines

“Southeastern Massachusetts to Rhode Island is where the battle line is going to be between snow and rain,” Hayes said.

A similar situation could affect predictions for southern New Jersey and Long Island.

The snow should end in New York by midnight with Thanksgiving Day becoming drier, Stark said.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade kicks off at 9 a.m. on 77th Street and Central Park West. The high for the day is forecast to be 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 Celsius.)

Farther to the west, Chicago has a 20% chance of picking up some light snow tomorrow, said Bill Nelson, a weather service meteorologist in Romeoville, Illinois.

“All in all, it doesn’t look like there should be too many hazards or impediments to travel,” Nelson said.

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