Flooding rains, heavy snows and gusty winds across the U.S. are disrupting travel on one of the busiest days of the year and are threatening to keep Thanksgiving Day parade balloons from flying in New York City.
Two large storms are hitting as close to 55 million people are expected to take to the roads and air ahead of the U.S. holiday Thursday, according to AAA. Areas around Denver received 8 to 12 inches of snow, causing treacherous road conditions and complicating air travel.
Both coasts are also facing weather issues. In New York City, winds could reach 25 miles per hour on Thursday, threatening to ground the massive balloons at Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. In Oregon and California, a powerful Pacific Ocean storm may bring snow by the foot across the Sierra Nevadas and torrential rains to southern California that could touch off mudslides, said Brian Hurley, a senior branch forecaster at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center.
"Where it is not snow, it is going to be very windy," said Dan Pydynowski, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. "In a place like Chicago they are already seeing wind gusts of 50 miles per hour. Those winds will spread eastward tonight and tomorrow."
High winds knocked out power to more than 204,000 homes and businesses in the Midwest and another 60,000 in Northern California, according to utility websites. Duke Energy Corp.'s Indiana utility was among the hardest hit, with more than 15,000 customers without electricity, according to a spokeswoman.
New York was warm and cloudy before the sun and wind are to arrive. "The Macy's balloons will be a concern," Hurley said.
Macy's Inc. said in a statement it will meet with the New York Police Department early Thursday to determine which balloons -- including those in the shape of SpongeBob SquarePants, Snoopy, Pikachu and other characters -- will fly.
"Each is designed to fly at different heights and angles based on their shape and scale and the exact wind conditions along the route," the company said in an email. "The decision on adding the balloons to the lineup is made by NYPD and Macy's officials just prior to the start of the parade and takes into account the weather data along the entire parade route and information from nearby weather stations."
None of the giant balloons is allowed to fly if there are sustained winds exceeding 23 mph or gusts of more than 34 mph on the route.
Meanwhile, more than 100 U.S. flights were canceled and 2,000 flights were delayed Wednesday, according to the website for FlightAware. Treacherous road conditions contributed to at least one fatal accident, when three tractor-trailers and a pickup truck collided on Interstate 70 west of Denver, according to state police.
In California, snow could fall at lower elevations, making travel along Interstate 5 -- a north-south artery -- difficult.
"There will certainly be impacts in both air and ground travel in a lot of California," AccuWeather's Pydynowski said.
Traffic may be especially snarled this year, with estimates of more drivers taking to the roads solo with fuel prices basically flat compared with last year.
(With assistance from Christopher Martin and Vincent Del Giudice.)
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