By JULIE CARR SMYTH
Wintry weather temporarily loosened its grip across much of the U.S. just in time for Thanksgiving, but travelers were bracing for heavy snow and blizzard conditions in some areas as they made plans to return home.
The wind, ice and snow that tied up major highways and airports Tuesday and Wednesday largely let up Thursday, with a notable exception in California, where the main north-south Interstate 5 was shut down in Southern California as heavy snow blanketed the region. The lanes in both directions were reopened hours later.
High winds that had ripped a wooden sign from scaffolding on Chicago’s Willis Tower and nearly felled the Christmas Tree to close Cleveland’s Public Square Wednesday were calm enough by Thursday morning to allow the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York to proceed, albeit with balloons flying at lower levels.
The National Weather Service predicted things could get dicey — if not impassable — for holiday travelers’ trips home. Forecasters warned against travel Friday night through Saturday night in a stretch of country from northeast Wyoming to northwest South Dakota due to expected blizzard conditions.
The next storm system was expected to drop up to 2 feet of additional snow from the Sierra Nevada to the central and northern Rockies as it rolls across a large swath of the western and central United States.
“Instead of telling you the whole spiel of when not to drive, we think it’s easier to give the advice of just staying home this weekend,” said a tweet from the National Weather Service in Reno. “It’ll be a mess out there and we want everyone to enjoy their holiday weekend.”
Long stretches of two interstate highways in northern Arizona’s high country also were expected to be closed between late Thursday and early Friday because of expected heavy snowfall.
High winds also caused power outages in parts of the country, which crews scrambled to address Thursday.
In Ohio, crews had restored power to about 90 percent of those affected by Wednesday power outages caused by high winds. At peak, 42,000 customers in central Ohio and 39,000 in northeast Ohio were without electricity.
In Maine, heavy, wet snow and gusty winds caused more than 20,000 power outages. Central Maine Power Co. said in addition to its crews, at least 70 contractor crews, including 50 from Canada, were actively working or were headed to Maine Thursday to provide restoration support.
About 40 flights at Salt Lake City International Airport were experiencing delays averaging around 25 minutes around midday Thursday. Spokeswoman Nancy Volmer said some of those may have related to weather in other cities. Los Angeles and Denver also had a high number of delays, according to the live-tracking website FlightAware.
Volmer said Thursday’s weather respite had given the airport time to clear most runways and roadways, but crews were bracing for more snowfall by evening.
In Chicago, which experienced delays headed into Thanksgiving Day, the Chicago Department of Aviation said things were pretty much back to normal.