Airlines and local snow plowing crews are bracing for heavy snow to hit the area on the day after Christmas.
As residents enjoyed Christmas, a low-pressure winter storm system was approaching Ohio from Texas and is expected to culminate here with heavy snow Wednesday afternoon that threatens to complicate commutes and holiday travel.
The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for northeast Ohio starting 7 a.m. Wednesday and lasting until 7 a.m. Thursday. Amid temperatures in the upper 20s, about eight to 12 inches of snow is expected, with much of it accumulating east of Interstate 71. South of U.S. 30, people could experience some freezing rain and sleet with the snow.
It’s expected to start snowing Wednesday morning and then the snow will become heaviest in the afternoon with winds of 15 to 25 miles per hour with gusts of possibly 40 miles per hour. It may become extremely difficult to see while driving due to the snow during Wednesday afternoon and evening as visibility could drop to nearly zero.
More snowfall could be on the way Saturday, but it’s not clear yet how much.
POSSIBLE FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS
With the severity of the storm today uncertain, airlines had not yet canceled flights Wednesday from Akron-Canton Airport, but a couple were giving passengers the option of rebooking their flights without a fee to depart Christmas Day or after Wednesday.
Kenneth Stemple, a skycap at Akron-Canton Airport, said his brother had been scheduled to fly from Akron-Canton to New York LaGuardia Airport Wednesday to visit their sister. But after receiving an alert from AirTran, the brother opted to rebook and depart early Christmas morning.
Akron-Canton Airport’s spokeswoman Kristie VanAuken said airport crews would work around the clock to ensure the runways stay clear of snow and that the airport would remain open.
Canton Service Director Warren Price said two street workers on the midnight shift were expected early Wednesday morning to attach plows to city trucks and prepare equipment for the 15 street workers on the day shift.
“We’re prepared for the worst,” Price said.
Canton Street Superintendent Kevin Monroe said another 14 street workers will start their shifts at 3 p.m. Wednesday right when the heaviest snow hits, minimizing overtime costs. And he has the option of calling in employees from other city departments to plow roads if necessary.
Justin Chesnic, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said that Stark County would have 20 ODOT crews to clear snow on Interstate 77 and other state routes. Crews could start pretreating roads with salt before sunrise.
Randy Payne, a spokesman for AEP, said the utility was not anticipating outages. He said what causes lines to go down is usually not snow or wind but icing on the lines, which is expected to occur mainly south of I-70, well away from Stark County.
Page 2 of 3 - But he said utility restoration crews have been told to be ready to deploy early Wednesday, AEP managers were to hold a conference call at 6 p.m. to decide whether to pre-position the crews.
CHRISTMAS TRAVEL TALES
At Akron-Canton Airport Christmas morning, there were no signs of the possible chaos that could ensue today from weather-related delays.
Diane Whitelaw and her husband Dave, of Twinsburg, were sitting in the food court by the security screening area before their departure on the AirTran flight to Tampa.
After spending time with the families of two of their sons in Stow on Sunday night, they were to spend Christmas night with their other son in Tampa and their daughter from Columbus who had just finished a cruise. Then this weekend, they, their daughter and her husband plan to drive about 20 hours to return to Ohio.
“It’s part of the Christmas fun,” said Whitelaw, who was to give her three grown Tampa grandchildren iPod Touches on Christmas night.
At a nearby table, Pratik Desi, 34, an orthopedic doctor doing his one-year fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic, was awaiting his U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte, N.C., where he would catch a connection to Jacksonville, Fla. He was to be there Christmas night with his family.
Desi said never having before made the hour-long drive to Green, he had arrived early, only to discover nearly no line at security. He said the airlines significantly increased fares for Christmas week. His ticket was about $500, which was about $300 less than if he had flown from Cleveland.
“The fares are ridiculous,” he said.
Josh Todd, 27, of Avon, and his mother drove 90 minutes to drop off his wife, Nicole, and 18-month-old son for an AirTran flight to Fort Myers, Fla., near Naples, Fla., where they’ll spend Christmas night with her grandmother. But Todd couldn’t go with them because he was on call Christmas Day and Wednesday as a surgical tech for the Cleveland Clinic. Todd plans to return to Akron-Canton on Thursday to catch a flight to Fort Lauderdale, from where he’ll make the 100-minute drive across Florida to join them.
“It’s obviously a little disappointing,” said Todd. “But what are you going to do?”
Sitting on a bench near the check-in counters, Maureen Greene and her husband Don had come all the way to Akron-Canton from Marblehead near Sandusky to get the lower-cost flight to Fort Myers, Fla., where they’ll spend much of the winter. They spent Christmas Eve with their daughter in Brunswick.
She said the long drive to Green was worth it because “you don’t have the hustle and bustle you have at the big airport.”
Airlines prepare for possible delays Wednesday
Page 3 of 3 - Paul Flaningan, a spokesman for Southwest Airlines and its subsidiary AirTran Airways, said the two airlines, which were monitoring the weather, had not yet decided whether to cancel flights Wednesday. He urged passengers to check the flight status on their airline’s website before leaving for the airport.
If seats are available, Southwest and AirTran passengers scheduled Wednesday to travel to or from Akron-Canton Airport, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Pittsburgh International Airport or several other airports listed on their websites, will be allowed to rebook their flights online without charge for a new flight up to 14 days after the scheduled flight.
“The weather can change on a dime,” he said. “If the weather does change, we will issue those declarations on our website.”
Delta Airlines was allowing the rescheduling of travel without charge to or from Cleveland or Pittsburgh on Christmas Day or Wednesday to new flights no later than Monday. It wasn’t clear why Akron-Canton wasn’t on Delta’s list. As of early Tuesday afternoon, Delta flights between Akron-Canton and Atlanta for today were all listed as “on-time.”
U.S. Airways was allowing passengers scheduled to travel today or Thursday to or from Akron-Canton, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and 22 other airports to rebook for a later flight through Tuesday.
U.S. Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said if there was a decent chance the flight would be canceled due to weather, the airline would cancel the flight and seek to inform passengers before they left home so they’re not stranded at the airport.
United Airline flights between Akron-Canton and Chicago O’Hare Airport for Wednesday were still listed as “On Schedule.”
Frontier Airlines had issued no travel advisories and was listing all its flights Wednesday between Akron-Canton and Denver as being “on time.”