"Bomb cyclone" and snow cause travel delays on Thanksgiving

/ CBS/AP

Severe weather takes aim at California

A day after the Rocky Mountains saw havoc, a powerful winter storm rolled across the Midwest early on Thanksgiving Day. The storm threatened to scramble plans for millions of people during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

The storm — which was blamed for one death and hundreds of canceled flights — pushed east into South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It dropped close to a foot of snow in some areas even as the system weakened and headed toward New York and Pennsylvania.

But the West was not free of heavy weather. A "bomb cyclone" caused by a rapid drop in air pressure brought snow to the mountains and wind and rain along the California and Oregon coasts.

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The California Highway Patrol in Crescent City, California, captured stunning video of the "bomb cyclone" tearing apart a roof. The winds were packing gusts of up to 100 mph, according to CBS correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti.

We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto!! Do not underestimate the power of this storm! Stay home and do not travel unless necessary. Ace Hardwares roof peeling off and coming into our back parking lot.

Posted by CHP – Crescent City on Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Drivers on Interstate 5 near the Oregon-California border spent 17 hours or more in stopped traffic as blizzard conditions whirled outside. Some slept in their vehicles. That stretch of freeway was closed at one point.

"It's one of those things, you couldn't make it up if you tried," National Weather Service meteorologist Brent Hewett said of back-to-back storms forming around the holiday.

"Bomb cyclone" gives Thanksgiving travelers a headache

CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave reports there are 1.6 million more Thanksgiving travelers than last year, and 90% of the 55 million are doing it by car.

"I think the only way to really get away to get around it is to leave around 3:00 in the morning and just get there before everyone gets up," one driver said.

Christina Williams and her 13-year-old son, who live in Portland, Oregon, got stuck in the storm as they tried to drive to the San Francisco area for Thanksgiving. Williams said she and other stranded drivers connected on Twitter using weather-related hashtags and began to communicate to find out what conditions were like in other parts of the backup.

"There were spinouts everywhere. There were trucks that were abandoned. And every time we stopped and started moving again, there were people who couldn't start moving again," Williams said. "Every time we stopped I was like, 'Is this it? Are we going to be here overnight?'"

It took more than 17 hours to reach Redding, California, where they got a hotel room, she said.

Snow and downed trees and power lines closed roads. Others were reduced to a single lane, transportation officials said.

interstate-5-california-snow-winter-weather-storm-01.png
Trucks seen on Interstate 5 on Thanksgiving Day. CBS Los Angeles

Northbound lanes of Interstate 5, which runs parallel to the coast, were reopened laters Wednesday from Redding, California all the way to the Oregon border. The southbound lanes at Ashland, Oregon, reopened earlier in the day.

Transportation officials and other agencies tried to communicate the seriousness of the storm, but many drivers were still caught by surprise, said Don Anderson, deputy director of the California Department of Transportation in Redding.

Minneapolis awoke to as much as 9 inches of snow. Drivers were warned to stay off the roads at least until the winds died down.

"If you can wait a little bit today, the better off you'll be because the roads will be being cleared, and our snow is pretty much wrapping up," said Tyler Hasenstein, a weather service meteorologist in Minneapolis.

At the city's main airport, Delta Air Lines filled de-icing tanks, called in extra flight dispatchers and assigned some of its 20 in-house meteorologists to focus on the forecast.

Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said three runways were open Wednesday, but Federal Aviation Administration data showed that travelers were still experiencing delays of more than an hour.

At Chicago's O'Hare Airport, one of the nation's busiest, the FAA said heavy traffic was causing delays of up to 30 minutes and rising. Airlines worried that things could get worse if winds picked up.

In the city's Loop business district, high winds peeled a wooden sign off scaffolding at Willis Tower. The sign slammed into two vehicles and smashed a window, hurting a cab driver, who was taken to a hospital with an arm injury, police said.

The northern reaches of Wisconsin saw 7 to 10 inches of snow, with more coming down. The Milwaukee airport reported wind and rain, but there was no snow within a hundred miles of the city.

On Tuesday, weather-related damage and delays were widespread.

About 10 inches of snow mixed with winds that limited visibility and canceled about 30% of the 1,600 average daily flights at Denver's main airport.

Southwest Airlines canceled about 200 flights. Spokesman Brad Hawkins said it would take a couple of days to rebook stranded passengers on other flights because there are few empty seats during the pre-Thanksgiving travel crush.

About 1,100 people spent the night at the airport, spokeswoman Alex Renteria said.

Airport workers handed out blankets, diapers, baby formula, toothbrushes and toothpaste to passengers who camped out on floors and in chairs.

One person was killed near the ski town of Vail when a tractor-trailer jackknifed and was hit by two other trucks on Interstate 70.

Before it's over, the system's effects could extend all the way to New England, where a chance of snow was possible over the weekend, the weather service said.

First published on November 28, 2019 / 8:38 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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