NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Thanksgiving travelers scrambled to book earlier flights Tuesday to avoid a sprawling storm that has moved into the East Coast with a messy mix of snow, rain and wind that threatened to snarl one of the busiest travel days of the year and ground giant balloon versions of Snoopy and SpongeBob SquarePants in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
The rain had begun soaking the area by Tuesday night. Forecasters say a storm system has the potential to bring 2 to 4 inches by Wednesday, and there is a chance for minor flooding during high tide Wednesday morning.
No major delays were reported at area airports late Tuesday night. But earlier, low clouds delayed flights at LaGuardia Airport, and suspended some flights at Newark Liberty International Airport. The Port Authority Bus Terminal was experiencing delays of about an hour late Tuesday night.
The worst of the storm was to impact the Tri-State Area in the overnight hours and into Wednesday morning, CBS 2 meteorologist Lonnie Quinn said. The good news, said Quinn, is that this will be a rainstorm, not a snowstorm.
Meteorologists warned that the storm, which has moved across the country, would almost certainly upset holiday travel plans Wednesday for those hoping to visit loved ones in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Many travelers were moving to earlier flights, taking advantage of airlines’ policies to waive their normal change fees.
Jack Rekucki didn’t take any chances with his flight from New Orleans to Newark.
“I was supposed to fly out later tomorrow,” he told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco. “But they actually let me change my flight because of the storm.”
At LaGuardia on Tuesday, CBS 2’s Lou Young reported that the early bird got the flights.
Air travelers who headed in and out of New York were patting themselves on the back early Tuesday, Young reported.
“Not only do I feel smart, I feel very lucky that I think I’m going before the storm when I leave and after the storm when I arrive in Chicago,” Barbara Mortimer said.
One couple landed at Westchester Airport from Florida in time for lunch.
“We were told to take an early flight, so we got out of Lauderdale at 7:10 right on time, and we took the early flight and we beat the rush,” Sy Bernstein told Young.
Another traveler heeded the weather warnings and arrived at LaGuardia in time for an early dinner Tuesday.
“Yesterday, we changed our flight. Got out at 11 from Chicago and just landed now. So, we’re here for the holidays,” Joe McQuaid said.
Some flights arrived ahead of scheduled as the carriers rushed to stay ahead of the weather.
But some outbound passengers who checked in late Tuesday afternoon had one eye on the sky. Flights left as they filled while those hoping to get out of town waited for the next shoe to drop, Young reported.
“I’m going to be really bummed if I don’t get out of here on time,” one traveler told Young.
“I want to be home in the hot tub, not in New York. I love it here but I want Mama’s home cooking,” Victoria Sook added.
At New York’s Penn Station, weather delays and a broken-down train created a chaotic scene during the afternoon rush. Some New Jersey Transit trains were experiencing delays of 30 to 40 minutes. Metro-North trains on the New Haven line experienced delays of up to 90 minutes.
“I think they said there were some signal problems because of the weather,” one passenger told 1010 WINS reporter Roger Stern.
“Everyone at work changed their flights and their trains,” said Rebecca Wenner, of the West Village. “There was a big frenzy. So we jumped on board with that, and we changed ours until tonight.”
A wind advisory was in effect for New York City, Westchester County and parts of New Jersey and Connecticut from midnight until 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Con Edison says crews will be ready to respond to any outages that may occur and is urging customers to be safe and avoid any downed power lines.
Customers can report downed power lines, outages and check service restoration status at ConEd.com or by calling 800-75-CONED (800-752-6633).
New York City is expected to escape the snow, but some western and northern suburbs are expected to see ice and officials say the region’s airports are likely to see delays.
The good news is that the storm is supposed to pass through the northeast before Thanksgiving Day, with the weather mostly clearing up by Wednesday evening.
Most airlines are hoping the storm won’t be too severe, allowing them to continue operating a nearly full schedule with few cancellations, but likely a lot of delays, said Daniel Baker, CEO of FlightAware, a global flight tracking service.
“Cancellations are used as a good, preventative measure to avoid cascading delays that can negatively impact travelers thousands of miles away,” Baker said.
Heavy rain and high winds would impact travel by air and road in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, and could have a ripple effect on airports with departing and originating flights elsewhere.
Heavy rain and breezy conditions were in the forecast Wednesday from the Carolinas to the Northeast, with ice and snow a possibility in the Appalachians, western Pennsylvania and western New York.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged motorists Tuesday to use caution as the first winter storm of the season begins to impact parts of New York.
“As New Yorkers are beginning to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, we are also preparing for the first major winter storm of the year which is expected to bring snow and ice to communities across the state,” Cuomo said. “Recognizing that the harsh weather as well as the increased use of roadways has the potential to cause serious inconvenience for motorists, I have directed the state’s transportation agencies to take all necessary preparations to be ready to clear roadways as quickly as possible.”
Tanya Casares and her kids, Thalia and Charles, were planning to get from San Antonio to New York City for a big family reunion, but ended up stuck in Dallas for an icy layover.
“Our flight got changed three times,” Casares said. “It took us seven-and-a-half hours to get here, but what matters is we’re here.”
Officials advised travelers to check with their airlines and reduce speed on highways.
This holiday will likely see the most air travelers since 2007, according to Airlines for America, the industry’s trade and lobbying group, with the busiest day being Sunday, an estimated 2.56 million passengers.
Wednesday is expected to be the second-busiest day, with 2.42 million passengers.
Ninety percent of travelers this week will drive, according to AAA, and an estimated 38.9 million people, 1.6 percent fewer than last year, are expected to drive 50 miles or more from their home.
said Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for the travel group AAA.
New York City traffic expert “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz said drivers should expect big delays starting Tuesday.
“Thanksgiving week is the heaviest traffic week of the year,” he said. “Tuesday has become to new Wednesday. A lot of people really do take Tuesday off to advance for the holiday.”
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