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Powerful winter storm threatens millions of travelers heading home – especially in New England

, USA TODAY
Published 9:42 a.m. ET Nov. 30, 2019 | Updated 5:05 p.m. ET Nov. 30, 2019

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A powerful winter storm continued to push eastward Saturday, bringing heavy snow, strong winds and blizzard warnings in some areas along the country’s northern tier, threatening to disrupt travel for millions of homeward bound holiday travelers.

The National Weather Service said travel could become impossible in some places.

The storm was expected to drop 6 to 12 inches of snow from the northern Plains states into Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

Adding to the weekend misery, a powerful nor’easter was developing off the New England coast that could slam into the cold air from the West and trigger the first heavy snow of the year from New Jersey to Boston.

A nor’easter is named for the direction of strong winds — often frigid Arctic air — blowing in from the Atlantic.

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The Boston office of the National Weather Service warned of “impactful amounts of snow” from Sunday into Monday, especially in the interior Southern New England. The NWS warns of 6 to 12 inches of snow from northeast New Jersey into Connecticut. 

The storm making its way from California was expected to batter the Midwest on Saturday and the northeast on Sunday with snow and ice. Winter storm warnings, winter storm watches and winter weather advisories were in effect across a broad swath from the West, Rockies, Plains and upper Midwest.

Farther south, rain and thunderstorms, some severe, were expected to develop in the lower Mississippi, Tennessee and Ohio Valleys.

The weather could be particularly disruptive on Sunday, when millions of holiday travelers head home. Airlines for America, the airline industry’s trade group, expects 3.1 million passengers during what could be the busiest day ever recorded for American air travel.

Airlines were waiving change fees due to the storm, allowing travelers to change or cancel their flight plans at no cost. 

The storm caused the death of one person in South Dakota and two young children in central Arizona. Authorities found their bodies, and a third child was missing, after a vehicle was swept away while attempting to cross a runoff-swollen creek. 

The storm closed down highways in the western U.S., stranding drivers in California and prompting authorities in Arizona to plead with travelers to wait out the weather before attempting to travel.

Forecasters said a new storm is expected to bring California several feet of mountain snow, rain and gusty winds through the weekend. 

Gusts up to 90 mph were possible in mountains and foothills and could reach 65 mph in the Plains, creating poor visibility.

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Parts of Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska, as well as northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth, were under blizzard warnings that threatened to reduce visibility on the highways to less than a quarter-mile.

A 100-mile section of Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Wyoming closed Saturday morning because of high winds and blowing snow.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation said I-80 was closed in both directions and advised against travel in the state’s Panhandle region. Several other roads and highways also were closed.

The local forecast by the Duluth weather office said the powerful winter storm bearing down on the region was on a “perfect trajectory to blanket the majority of the Northland with a foot or more of snow.”

“Many current meteorologists look back fondly of a storm of their youth that was a critical deciding factor in their career paths,” the forecaster wrote. “This storm just may be that storm for someone.”

Northern Michigan University reopened its residence halls, two days earlier than normal for a Thanksgiving weekend, to give students more options as forecasters predicted a foot or more of snow.

“We want to make people aware of what they could be driving into,” campus police Chief Mike Bath said.

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