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Early Winter Storm Could Snarl Thanksgiving Travel: Tips on Being Prepared

By Potomac Local News November 25, 2013 11:40 am

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Image: AccuWeather.com

Image: AccuWeather.com

Over the river, through the woods, to grandma’s house we go – maybe. An early winter storm is bearing down on the east coast and it could make Tuesday – one of the busiest travel days of the year leading up to Thanksgiving – a nightmare in the Northeast.

Snow, ice, rain, and wind are all expected as part of the storm that’s moving east.

Over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, a wintery mix is expected to impact our area, with heavy rains along the Interstate 95 corridor on Wednesday. With outside temperatures already unseasonably cold, the mercury is not expected to rise above the lower 40s on both days with lows in the 30s, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm may begin as freezing rain for our area on Tuesday and then change over to rain, and continue as rain throughout Wednesday, according the weather service.

The storm is expected to clear the area by Thanksgiving Day, but the cold air is here to stay as forecasted temperatures are listed in the 30s.

Flightmare

The storm is expected to cause major delays from Virginia up through the Northeast. AAA Mid-Atlantic provided some tips to those flying home for the holidays this holiday on how not to get stuck in an airport:

Know your rights

Check with your airline regarding cancellation policies for your specific type of ticket. In advance your departure date, travelers should research whether their tickets are refundable and, if not, whether the ticket can be used at another time. Travelers making changes to their reservations in advance should research what types of fees will be associated with the changes and whether any short-notice changes will cause the loss of the ticket value. Carry a printed copy of the contract of carriage with the airline, so you know what to expect should your flight be cancelled.

Mind the weather

Watch for weather forecasts for every airport you will pass through. The weather may be warm and sunny where you begin your trip, but severe weather in any layover city or at your final destination may cause significant delays. The Federal Aviation Administration maintains flight delay information for general airport conditions, but make sure to check with your individual departure airport as well.

Know how to be contacted

Make sure you have included a cell phone number with your travel reservation so you can receive automated alerts while you are at the airport. Also, make sure to turn your phone back on during layovers to receive the alerts. In advance of your trip locate the social media accounts for your airlines. If phone lines are busy with other callers trying to re-book flights, sending messages by social media is an additional way to contact the airline. Some airlines have dedicated social media accounts solely to help passengers with travel related difficulties. Tweeting for assistance may help you re-book a flight if the phone lines are jammed or disconnected.

Formulate a backup plan

Travelers should research back up modes of transportation, such as other carriers, rental cars, rail or bus service should your flight get cancelled. Driving, taking a bus or taking a train may get you through the last portion of your trip should flights be booked.

Check your traveler’s insurance policy

Read over your traveler’s insurance policy if you have purchased one for your trip. As a general rule, AAA Travel strongly recommends trip cancellation insurance, which reimburses monetary losses if cancellation must be made due to illness or death of passenger or immediate family.

Unaccompanied minors

Research your airline policy for unaccompanied minors. Some airlines will not allow unaccompanied minors to travel on flights that may be cancelled due to inclement weather.

Delays

Delays. Delays. Given the forecast, be prepared for delays. Once you check your baggage you won’t be able to access it to retrieve items very easily, if at all. Always keep any medication in your carry on. Also, pack an extra change of clothes in your carry on for each family member for any extended delay. Make sure you also keep your battery charger for your phones as well. While at the airport, make sure to check in with the airlines at the gate for last minute changes.

On the roads

Virginia State Police say this is one of the busiest travel times of the year and that paying attention to safety will help you arrive alive:

Last year, 14 individuals died in 13 traffic crashes on Virginia’s highways during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend – the highest number of fatal crashes since 2009 when 16 motorists lost their lives.* With the most heavily-traveled holiday next week, the Virginia State Police are strongly encouraging motorists and their passengers to focus on safe driving behaviors.

“Every year our goal is to have no fatalities to report from a holiday weekend, unfortunately it’s not the reality of the situation,” says Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “It’s critically important for drivers and passengers to make smart and safe choices, to include buckling up and driving distraction-free, when getting behind the wheel or riding in a vehicle. We want everyone to make it to their Thanksgiving destination and return home safely.”

Of the 14 motorists who died during the 2012 Thanksgiving holiday, 11 individuals were not wearing a seatbelt. Virginia State Police will increase patrols and traffic enforcement efforts in order to prevent traffic deaths and injuries as part of the state police’s participation in Operation C.A.R.E., an acronym for the Combined Accident Reduction Effort. Operation C.A.R.E. is a state-sponsored, national program designed to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries caused by speeding, impaired driving and failure to use occupant restraints. Motorists can expect to see an increase in troopers throughout the Commonwealth beginning Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013, at 12:01 a.m., and continuing through midnight, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013.

No lane closures

To help speed your trip on the roads, the Virginia Department of Transportation will lift all lane closures on state highways from noon Wednesday until noon on Monday, Dec. 2. Of the 43 million people who will travel this holiday, about 90% of them will do so by vehicle, according to VDOT.

The state agency released a map that shows, historically, where drivers can expect the most congestion over the holiday.

Here’s what VDOT says you can expect in Northern Virginia:

• High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) restrictions on interstates 66, 95 and 395 will be lifted on Thanksgiving, Thursday, Nov. 28. Normal HOV restrictions will be in place on Wednesday, Nov. 27, and Friday, Nov. 29.

• Direction schedule for I-95/I-395 reversible lanes: Lanes will be southbound from 1 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, until midnight Thursday, Nov. 28. Lanes reopen northbound by 2 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 28, and will remain northbound through 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 29. Lanes will reopen southbound by 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, and remain southbound through 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30. Lanes will reopen northbound by 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, and continue northbound for the remainder of the weekend.

I-95 Express Lanes construction: VDOT will restrict lane closures on I-95 in the Express Lanes work zone from 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, to Monday, Dec. 2, at noon.