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Rain, wind and snow could complicate post-Christmas travel in western US

Posted at 6:03 AM, Dec 26, 2019

Rain, snow and wind in the West could mean that an already frustrating holiday travel season will be a nightmare on what's expected to be one of the busiest days for drivers post-Christmas.

Holiday travelers in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and San Francisco could see delays Thursday and Friday, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.

Southern California is getting the brunt of the weather, with Los Angeles to Santa Barbara expecting 2-3 inches of rain through Friday and the area south toward San Diego looking at 1-2 inches as well, Guy said.

To the north of Los Angeles and at higher elevations, up to 3 feet of snow could fall, Guy said.

Interstate 5 over Grapevine pass, which is northeast of Los Angeles, closed late Wednesday night into Thursday morning due to heavy snowfall and multiple stuck vehicles, the California Highway Patrol Fort Tejon said on Facebook.

There were no estimates as to when it would reopen.

Roads congested to begin with

Rain or shine, high traffic already makes holiday travel tricky.

And this season, more Americans are traveling than ever recorded, according to a statement from AAA .

From December 21 to January 1, 115.6 million people will travel, the statement said. That is up by 4.3 million. And almost 90% of those travelers are expected to take to the road.

The worst expected day for travel? Thursday. The day after Christmas is expected to reach afternoon delays reaching nearly double the drive times without congestion in major cities, the statement read.

"Travelers should be getting used to crowded highways and airports, as this marks the eighth straight year of new record-high travel volumes for the year-end holidays," said Paula Twidale, vice president, AAA Travel.

But it has happened before

While the day-after-Christmas traffic might not mix well with weather, the two have been linked before.

In 1969, 2002 and 2010, storms struck post-Christmas, the National Weather Service reported.

A storm moving north along the East Coast beginning on Christmas night 1969 became the third greatest snow storm to hit Albany, bringing a total of 26.7 inches of snow, the NWS said.

Flights were cancelled Christmas night in 2002 and many travelers left stranded at the airport when a snow storm hit the northeast bringing over 20 inches of snow, the NWS said. The area was struck again by another storm just after New Year's Day.

In 2010 , the days after Christmas brought wind gusts up to 70 mph and up to 2 feet of snow to the northeast. Snowfall rates reached 1 to 3 inches an hour across the region, the NWS said.