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A winter storm is expected to cause widespread travel disruptions

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Millions of Americans may need to change their holiday travel plans this week as a severe winter storm hitting the Pacific Northwest moves across the country, bringing heavy snowfall, high winds and plummeting temperatures. From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Deep snow and limited visibility caused Vancouver's international airport to temporarily shut down today, stranding scores of passengers. And that could be a sign of things to come here, as the frigid weather system moves into and across the U.S. Forecasts call for heavy snow, extremely high winds and even whiteout conditions across the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains and into the Midwest.

KATHLEEN BANGS: While this could really be significant...

SCHAPER: Kathleen Bangs is with the flight tracking site flightaware.com.

BANGS: ...You know, we could see Denver affected, Minneapolis. Obviously, Chicago is looking at potential blizzard conditions and up to 10 inches of snow with high winds.

SCHAPER: And behind it, bitterly cold air that will drop temperatures for well below zero in Montana, the Dakotas and the upper Great Lakes to near freezing down near the Gulf Coast, where Bangs says it will meet warmer and moist, stormy air in southern states.

BANGS: Across not too far of a geographical distance, you could be taking off in blizzard conditions and then landing in thunderstorm conditions.

SCHAPER: Airlines canceled only a few hundred flights today, but delays and cancellations are expected to increase significantly in the coming days. So airlines are now allowing passengers to change their flights and travel ahead of the storm. Amtrak is canceling some trains in and out of Chicago later this week. According to AAA, 113 million Americans are traveling for the holidays and 90% of them are driving, which authorities warn may be especially treacherous later in the week.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.