- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

Airports in the Washington area reported frequent delays and cancellations after a giant winter storm dumped more than a season’s worth of snow on the Midwest yesterday, stranding travelers making their Christmas journeys to the homes of their families and friends.

Schedule problems were worst for flights heading to Ohio and Indiana.

The airports were “extremely busy,” said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports. A record 62 million people nationwide are expected to travel this weekend.

“If you add weather into the mix, it can slow things down,” Miss Hamilton said.

Reagan Airport handled an estimated 45,000 travelers yesterday, while another 75,000 used Dulles Airport.

Flights out of major airport hubs, such as Chicago’s O’Hare and regional airports in Cincinnati and Cleveland, were delayed for as long as two hours at times, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

“It’s a trickle-down system,” said Tracy Newman, spokeswoman for Baltimore-Washington International Airport, referring to the way the delay of a few flights can delay other flights that are supposed to connect with them or that compete with them for landings and takeoffs.

BWI was expecting 68,000 travelers to use the airport yesterday, one of its busiest days of the year. Another 65,000 are expected today.

In one two-hour period yesterday afternoon, most of 62 flights arriving at BWI were listed on the airport Web site as delayed or late. Four of them were canceled.

Although Dulles and Reagan also reported frequent delays in midafternoon, the problems diminished later in the day at all the airports as the weather cleared.

Airlines that reportedly experienced the most delays were Continental, Delta and US Airways.

The arctic blast dumped snow from the Rockies in the West to Ohio in the East, and down as far as the Texas Panhandle, but the Midwestern states bore the brunt of the onslaught, the National Weather Service said.

The front dropped double-digit amounts of snow in parts of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Michigan, stranding travelers in their vehicles or at truck stops just two days before Christmas, transportation officials said.

UPS said the storm had caused delays and packages might not arrive before Christmas.

The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport ran out of de-icing fluid because of frigid conditions. All 124 passengers aboard a Northwest Airlines flight to Houston had to deplane after the jet hit a snow bank at Detroit Metropolitan Airport while taxiing to a runway.

At least 12 traffic deaths were blamed on the storm.

In Indiana, where record snowfall made interstate highways virtually impassable or reduced traffic to just one lane, authorities pleaded with motorists not to abandon their disabled or struck cars and trucks.

State officials declared snow emergencies for one-third of the state and called out the National Guard to help with road-clearing operations, as salt and plow truck drivers worked round-the-clock to clear the roads.

Gov. Joe Kernan urged residents to stay home, but added: “If you cannot postpone your holiday travel, please use extreme caution both on the roads and due to the decreasing temperatures.”

In Evansville and Salem, in southern Indiana, the National Guard turned its armories into temporary shelters for stranded motorists.

In Ohio, an ice storm downed trees and power lines, cutting power to more than a quarter of a million people, American Electric Power Inc. said.

The Greyhound bus company shuttered three bus stations and canceled service on a dozen routes across the Midwest, from Tennessee to Ohio. Stranded travelers hunkered down inside the buses, and the vehicles’ engines were left running to provide heat for those on board.

“We’re providing customers with food vouchers, and the Red Cross is bringing in food and other supplies for mothers and babies,” Greyhound spokeswoman Anna Folmnsbee said.

She said it was not clear how many bus travelers would be affected by the interrupted service, but the nation’s largest interstate bus company generally carries more than a million passengers over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period.

The only major delay on Amtrak trains involved one train traveling to Chicago that was stopped by snow near Cincinnati when local officials issued a travel advisory. It carried 130 passengers.

“Apparently [snow is] coming down like crazy,” Amtrak spokeswoman Marcie Golgoski said.

Amtrak operates 266 trains on weekdays, carrying an average of 66,000 passengers per day.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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