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WEATHER SNARLS HOLIDAY TRAVEL
CONDITIONS ELSEWHERE PRODUCE DELAYS, CANCELLATIONS IN BUFFALO NIAGARA REGION

Better late than never.

That was the prevailing opinion of holiday travelers Wednesday in and out of Buffalo.

They were thankful for a safe journey. As for their missing luggage, 12-hour air flights and growling, empty stomachs?

Well, that's another story.

"I do a lot of traveling, and I've never dealt with anything like this before," said Alice Short of Jackson, Miss.

Short was flying from Mississippi through Atlanta on Wednesday with her 6-year-old granddaughter to visit family in Buffalo. She was supposed to arrive here at 2:38 p.m.

At 7:20 p.m., shortly after touching down at Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga, Short was waiting with about two dozen other people trying to track their misplaced or redirected luggage.

Short was not alone in Buffalo or almost anywhere in the eastern half of the nation on the busiest travel day of the year.

The Thanksgiving weekend started with travelers crowding airports, bus and train stations, and highways putting up with tight security and bad weather that included heavy snow in the nation's midsection and rain in the Northeast and South.

According to a survey conducted for AAA by the Travel Industry Association of America, 30.6 million people, or 3 percent more than last year, were expected to hit the road during the holiday weekend, even with gasoline prices nearly one-third higher than a year ago.

An additional 6.6 million were projected to travel by plane, train or bus.

Short said everything seemed to be progressing well until late Wednesday morning when her plane circled Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport for an hour or so before being diverted to a small airport in Augusta, Ga.

Passengers were kept on the plane before they took off again and finally landed back in Atlanta at about 2:30 p.m. Then, another delayed flight from Atlanta to Buffalo resulted in a six-hour longer travel day than expected, she said.

Atlanta's severe weather was responsible for delaying or diverting a number of flights and appeared to have a ripple effect on air travel in Buffalo all day.

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, Victoria Stevens, who was flying through Atlanta from Savannah, Ga., was delayed for 2 1/2 hours because of bad weather in Georgia.

Dominic Menza was flying from Buffalo to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., on an afternoon flight that also was going through Atlanta.

His flight already was delayed an hour.

"What can you do? You're going to blame Delta Airline? Mother Nature rules the roost," said Menza, a former Air Force pilot who planned to do crossword puzzles to pass the time.

In addition to Atlanta, the weather disrupted travel in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City.

Along the Eastern Seaboard, the problem was low clouds and rain.

Dave Sage, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cheektowaga, said rain and low cloud ceilings would be just enough to cause delays on such a high-volume travel day.

At least two flights -- one to Boston and one to Philadelphia -- were canceled as well as an evening flight into Buffalo from Chicago O'Hare.

As for what Buffalo Niagara airport officials could control, operations here progressed smoothly, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the airport.

Sage didn't expect any travel problems today for Buffalo Niagara region motorists. Overnight rain was expected to turn into wet snow as a cold front moved through at about 4 a.m. Temperatures were expected to hold in the mid-30s today.

Little accumulation is expected in the Buffalo metro area. The hills south of Buffalo, in Wyoming County and the Southern Tier can expect about an inch of snow, Sage said.

Some small lake-effect accumulation could fall in the higher elevations south of the metro area late tonight and into Friday morning. Friday is expected to be a mostly cloudy day with temperatures hovering closer to normal at 40 degrees.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.
e-mail: tpignataro@buffnews.com and swatson@buffnews.com

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