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Travelers face heavy weather, traffic

Tuesday - 11/26/2013, 3:05pm  ET

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The Wednesday before Thanksgiving used to be the busiest travel day, but this year may not be the same. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

ABC7's Lauryn Ricketts

Forecast as of 2:40 p.m.

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'I really think we caught a break here'

ABC7 chief meteorologist Doug Hill at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday

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Tips to prepare for hectic airline travel

Peter Greenberg, CBS Travel Editor.

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WASHINGTON - The storm that's hitting the East Coast is sparing the region any snow or ice, but there's still enough rain and wind to hamper Thanksgiving travel plans.

The National Weather Service lifted its winter weather advisory for much of the area around noon Tuesday, though it's kept the advisory warning of snow, sleet and freezing rain in Loudoun and northern Fauquier Counties in Virginia, and Montgomery, Howard and Frederick Counties in Maryland, until 4 p.m.

The area dodged a bullet, according to ABC7 Chief Meteorologist Doug Hill: "I really think we caught a break here," he told WTOP during his 8:10 a.m. forecast.

The storm that's heading up the East Coast will deposit heavy snow on the areas north and west of the D.C. region, but in this area heavy rain will mark the days before the Thanksgiving holiday.

ABC7's Lauryn Ricketts says that the really wet weather will move in from the south and west this evening.

"This system is huge," Ricketts said during her 2:40 p.m. forecast. All of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia was seeing rain, and there was snow through central Pennsylvania and into New York State.

There was some freezing rain in Carroll and Frederick Counties, but around the D.C. area some southerly winds would raise temperatures and keep the precipitation to rain.

That said, it's a lot of rain, Ricketts says - 2 to 4 inches before the skies clear Wednesday night, in our region and up and down much of the East Coast.

Ricketts then called for snow to move from the west to the east through the region during the day on Wednesday, but predicted an inch at most, in certain areas. The winds, however, would be strong.

Skies will clear Wednesday night, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 30s for Thanksgiving Day.

If you're headed north and west of the area for the Thanksgiving holiday, though, prepare for the worst.

Hill says that Western Maryland will see "significant snow" - the National Weather Service's advisory for extreme western Allegany County and western Grant and Mineral Counties, in West Virginia, including Frostburg, Bayard and Mount Storm, extends through midnight tonight and predicts up to 6 inches of snow by the end of Wednesday.

Hill adds that western and northwestern Pennsylvania, interior and southwestern New York state and the interior areas of New England will be "nailed with a major snowstorm."

Below is an outline of what weather will look like leading up to Thanksgiving.

  • Tuesday: Heavy rain and wind, with a total of 2 to 3 inches across the area. Rain will continue through overnight. Highs will be in the 40s.
  • Wednesday: Rain will taper off and possibly end as snow, with no real accumulation. Highs will be in the low 40s.
  • Thursday: Sun returns for Thanksgiving Day with in the 30s.

"With such a wide encompassing storm, it is safe to say that if you have travel plans over the next few days be prepared for delays," says ABC7's Brian van de Graaff.

Van de Graaff also has a warning for those traveling by air.

"Winds will be fierce on Wednesday so flights could be bumpy," he says.

Bad news on the roads

And if you think you can beat the rush of traffic by leaving before Wednesday, WTOP's traffic experts say forget it -- you're too late to be early because it's already getting crowded on the roads.

In the past, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was considered the worst travel day of the year. But WTOP Director of Traffic and Weather Jim Battagliese says things have really changed over the past five years or so.

"People will usually leave the Saturday and Sunday before Thanksgiving, and some will leave Monday and Tuesday," Battagliese says.

AAA says that of the 43.4 million Americans venturing from home during the holiday weekend, 90 percent will travel by automobile. But that number only accounts for travelers leaving on or after Wednesday -- the real number is likely much higher.

Most vacations are planned in advance, but an itinerary that relies on a personal mode of transport is more flexible than one that involves a plane or train ticket and drivers use that flexibility.

"By a week before Thanksgiving ... folks have begun to exercise the option to get a head start to beat the crush," says WTOP traffic reporter Bob Marbourg.

Even that far in advance, the roads -- in particular Interstate 95 -- are bogged down by a mix of local motorists and through travelers from out-of-state.

This accounts for an uptick in volume and frustration felt by local commuters long before the holiday itself.

"Trying to out-think the competition, or at least out-think all of the other travelers -- that's never worked in the past and it probably won't work this time either," Marbourg says.

He adds that travelers have more company on the road from commercial drivers as well.

"Big trucks are trying to get where they need to go to get the shelves stocked for Black Friday," Marbourg says.

Once you get through to wherever you're going, you're not out of the woods -- there's still the trip home, in which traffic could be even worse.

"Although the getaway is more spread out, the coming-home traffic is not," Battagliese says. "I-95 will not be a fun trip on the Sunday after Thanksgiving."

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