WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) - A severe storm system moving up the eastern seaboard of the United States on Tuesday appeared likely to disrupt the busiest travel period of the year, with more than 55 million people expected to travel before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Thunderstorms were forecast from the lower Mississippi Valley to the mid-Atlantic region from Tuesday through Wednesday morning, while snow was expected to fall on parts of northern New England, the U.S. National Weather Service said.
The severe weather was likely to cause delays and additional congestion during what the AAA group expects to be the busiest travel period in the country since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Industry group Airlines for America forecast that U.S. airlines would carry some 29.9 million passengers between Nov. 17 and Nov. 27. That would be an all-time high, up 9% over the 27.5 million in the same period last year and up 1.7 million passengers over pre-COVID record levels.
Most of those traveling were expected to drive, AAA said, possibly motivated by a drop in gasoline prices from 2022. Around 49 million Americans were expected to get behind the wheel between Nov. 22 and Nov. 26, up 1.7% from the corresponding period in 2022, AAA said.
The heaviest rain and worst driving conditions were likely to be concentrated around the Interstate 95 corridor between Washington and New York, from Tuesday night into early Wednesday morning, said Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
"You're going to have some ponding of water on the roads, especially for the major metropolitan areas," Orrison said.
TRAVEL BOUNCES BACK
The number of Americans traveling around the holidays has rebounded in full force since the pandemic stymied the travel industry in 2020, AAA's tracking shows.
The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday said the bad weather would likely cause delays at some airports. The flight tracking website Flightaware showed 60 U.S. flights had been canceled on Tuesday and more than 3,600 delayed.
Los Angeles International Airport was expecting 2.5 million passengers in the Thanksgiving travel period, or 92% of its record-setting year of 2019, spokesperson Victoria Spilabotte said.
Still, many Americans are willing to brave the crowds to meet with distant family.
"It's really hard traveling with a baby for Thanksgiving. I wouldn't recommend it but we're really excited to go see our family," said Ariannah Todd, who was traveling to San Francisco with her husband and nine-month-old baby. (Reporting by Gabriella Borter and David Shepardson in Washington and Omar Younis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mark Porter and Sandra Maler)