Dangerous weather may disrupt Christmas travel

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(CNN) — Powerful storms threaten to bring severe thunderstorms and icy conditions to vast parts of the country, just in time for holiday travel.

delayed-webFlight delays could be possible Saturday in Oklahoma City, Wichita and Kansas City, CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said. Tulsa International Airport in Oklahoma could be forced to close Saturday because of severe icing, he said.

On Sunday, delays are possible in many key air travel hubs and larger markets, including Chicago, Milwaukee, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Charlotte and Atlanta, Morris predicted.

The weird weather comes just as the Christmas holiday travel period is set to get started. About 94.5 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday beginning Saturday, according to AAA.

“I see problems, and definitely no shortage of them,” CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons said Friday.

Of greatest concern: a moderate risk of severe thunderstorms that could produce isolated tornadoes in the lower Mississippi Valley, and the threat of icy conditions in the Midwest and Northeast.

While icy conditions are already being reported in Kansas, the problems will begin to spread Friday night, as a front fueled by moisture from the Gulf of Mexico sweeps across the Lower Mississippi Valley. Up to 5 inches of rain is expected across a broad area, with flood watches posted from northeast Texas all the way to eastern New York.

The risk of severe thunderstorms is greatest in parts of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, forecasters say.

A band of snow and freezing rain will stretch from Oklahoma to Michigan, bringing as much as 8 to 10 inches of snow.

Ice-storm warnings are up for northern Oklahoma beginning Friday night, with as much as a half-inch of ice possible there, mostly north of Interstate 44 from Oklahoma City to Springfield, Missouri. Later in the weekend, a half-inch to an inch of ice could coat parts of upstate New York, Vermont and Maine.

“This could be another heavy ice storm here,” Petersons said.

The system caused early morning icing in Topeka, Kansas, where freezing drizzle caused several wrecks, CNN affiliate KSNT reported.

Meanwhile, temperatures will continue to rise in the East ahead of the cold front trailing the storms, with New York reaching an unseasonable 67 degrees Sunday as Washington warms to 72 degrees.

Once it’s all said and done, it appears that the storms won’t leave much snow for those hoping for a white Christmas. That pleasure will probably go to Colorado and parts of the Great Lakes region, Petersons said.