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November 26. 2013 9:53PM

For most, no choice but to hit the roads for stormy holiday travel


Motorists faced slippery travel Tuesday on Route 101 in Epping. More travel headaches are expected today with heavy rain and wind in the forcecast. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

Brigid Connelly planned to hit the road with her 6-month-old son, Ian, Tuesday night to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family in Connecticut.

"The Mass Pike is always miserable the day before Thanksgiving, so I wanted to avoid it," the Stratham woman said.

But this year, traffic won't be the only trouble facing millions of holiday travelers.

A powerful East Coast storm packed with flooding rains, strong winds, and snow in some areas is expected to bring a host of holiday headaches on what is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year.

"It's going to be a tough go for planes, and people in cars aren't going to have much fun either," warned Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

Flood watches were posted for the entire state for today as forecasters predicted 2 to 4 inches of rain and winds gusting over 40 mph.

Forecasters said the region could see widespread flooding in urban and poor-draining areas and some flooding along smaller streams and creeks.

Hawley said the mountains of northern New Hampshire could see a couple of inches of snow before the precipitation turns to rain as temperatures climb into the 50s today. The strong winds will also be a problem, especially in southern New Hampshire and along the coast.

"I think it's going to cause a big impact on air travel. There will be all kinds of delays with air travel in Boston and Manchester and New York," Hawley said.

The American Automobile Association estimates 43.4 million people will travel 50 miles or more from home this Thanksgiving holiday — a period that runs from Wednesday to Sunday. That figure is down 1.5 percent from last year.

Some 37 percent of travelers are expected to head for their destinations on Wednesday, AAA said.

AAA also estimates that 90 percent of travelers will use automobiles, a drop of 1.6 percent. Locally, AAA estimates that 12.9 percent of New Englanders will travel, with 1.65 million traveling by automobile.

AAA also predicts 3.14 million will travel by air this year, which is down from 3.26 million last year.

Barrett McDevitt of Brentwood hopes the storm doesn't foul up travel plans for several members of his family traveling from Connecticut and New York. He'll be hosting 19 people at his home; all are expected to arrive sometime today, with the exception of his niece. She flew in from Florida a day earlier than planned to avoid problems.

"She also wanted an extra day of vacation," he said.

Jim Cole of Exeter is keeping a close eye on the forecast as he prepares to drive to Keene to visit his family on Thanksgiving.

"I've got to go no matter what happens," he said.

Cole will have to watch out for some icy spots on his drive to Keene. The heavy rain will likely end by early this evening. Even though the storm will be gone by Thanksgiving day, Hawley said travel could still be tricky because colder air will move into the region, causing wet roads to freeze.

On the bright side, AAA says drivers will see the cheapest gas prices this Thanksgiving since 2010.

Prices for regular unleaded are expected to average $3.28 in New Hampshire.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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