Americans scrambled to get home after a swath of bad weather helped force thousands of flight delays over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and storms forecast for Tuesday threatened more travel chaos.
More than 4,500 flights within, into, or out of the U.S. were delayed or canceled by Monday night – this after almost 7,000 flights were delayed Sunday, one of the year's busiest travel days, according to the tracking website flightaware.com.
Travel is back in a big way after the crushing effects of COVID-19. AAA estimated that 54.6 million people were traveling 50 miles or more from home over the Thanksgiving weekend. That’s a 1.5% increase over 2021 – and 98% of pre-pandemic levels.
This year was projected to be the third busiest for Thanksgiving travel since AAA started tracking in 2000. But heavy rains and thunderstorms in the South and snow in the Pacific Northwest helped fuel some post-Thanksgiving travel problems. And the hazardous weather is far from over.
30 million at risk for severe weather
A storm rolling out of the Rockies was forecast to bring severe weather ranging from high winds to tornadoes from Illinois and Indiana to Texas. AccuWeather meteorologists warned that about 30 million people in the south-central United States will be at risk for severe thunderstorms on Tuesday alone. Wind gusts from the storms will frequently reach 60 to 70 mph, and 85 mph is possible, AccuWeather said.
"We are fairly confident that there will be multiple tornadoes on the ground," AccuWeather Chief On-Air Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. "People should take this threat seriously."
The National Weather Service blamed a strong cold front tracking across the Intermountain West on Monday with strong winds, heavy snow and even elevated fire weather conditions for portions of the western High Plains. The storm was forecast to intensify on Tuesday as moisture quickly advances across the middle and lower Mississippi Valley. Tornadoes and damaging winds were expected.
"Conditions should allow for storms to easily begin rotating, leading to a heightened tornado threat," AccuWeather Meteorologist Andrew Johnson-Levine said. "A couple of strong, long tracked tornadoes also cannot be ruled out."
SEVERE WEATHER LOOMS: Severe weather 'outbreak' to impact South, threatening 25M from Texas to Illinois
New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham could be impacted
Major metro areas that could experience thunderstorms capable of producing flash flooding and damaging wind gusts on Wednesday include New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville and Birmingham, Alabama, AccuWeather said.
Airline passengers should expect additional delays north of the thunderstorm zone in the Midwest and the Northeast from Tuesday to Wednesday, AccuWeather said.
Elsewhere, snow could be the problem. Overnight Monday, snow will develop over parts of the North and Central Plains, the National Weather Service said. On Tuesday, snow will develop over the Middle Missouri Valley into the Upper Mississippi Valley. Heavy snow will develop over the parts of the Upper Great Lakes, which has prompted Winter Storm Watches over the region.
Contributing: Thao Nguyen, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Thousands of flights delayed as weather wreaks havoc on holiday travel