Favorable forecasts are gift for most holiday travelers

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 24, 2011 12:08 PM
Favorable forecasts are gift for most holiday travelers

By Karin Matz

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Holiday travelers throughout most of the United States are getting the gift of good weather to help their travel plans this Christmas Eve.

"It doesn't get much quieter than this, this time of year," said Tom Kines, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.

But winter storm warnings in the southern Plains, rain and snow in Texas, and rain in the Pacific Northwest could snarl some travel plans in those areas.

Moderate to occasionally heavy snow will continue on Saturday to blanket parts of the southern Plains where winter storm warnings remain in effect, according to the National Weather Service.

The greatest accumulation is expected in far southeast New Mexico and areas west of Midland, Texas.

Along with the southern Plains, parts of Colorado, areas of the Northeast and the Great Lakes region will see a white Christmas. But most of the country will have no new snow on Christmas Day.

"A large part of the country is going to be green or brown on Christmas Day," said Kines. "It stinks for Santa because he doesn't have the snow for his sleigh."

Kansas City, like most cities in the Midwest, is no exception. Temperatures there were forecast for 47 on Saturday and 48 on Sunday, under sunny skies.

While snowless Christmases are not that unusual in Kansas City, they are more so for Minneapolis. Last year a winter storm 12 days before Christmas dumped 17 inches of snow on the city and caused the roof of the Metrodome, the Minnesota Viking's football stadium, to collapse.

This year, Minneapolis has no snow and will have temperatures in the high 30s over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.

According to AccuWeather, El Paso, Texas, and Chicago are tied for seasonal snowfall so far with a total of 1.7 inches.

In a typical December, Chicago sees 8.5 inches of snow. To date this December, Chicago has seen the lowest amount of snow since 2003, according to Victor Murphy with the National Weather Service.

Drought-weary Texans are welcoming the snow and rain. The worst one-year drought in the state's history sparked devastating wildfires, killed as many as half a billion trees, and prompted the most serious urban water use restrictions ever.

Some of the most extreme water rationing will be lifted this weekend because of the rain. But Roland Ruiz, Vice President of the Edwards Aquifer Authority, which manages the underground reservoir, a main source of drinking water for millions of Texans, said the severe drought is still very much alive.

"Aquifer levels remain well below historic averages, and a return to severe restrictions is possible early in 2012," he said.

Texas needs 10 to 20 inches of rain in some areas just to return to normal levels for the year, and forecasters are not expecting anything close to that.

The National Weather Service's latest Seasonal Drought Outlook forecasts the drought to 'persist or intensify' across all but northeast Texas through March.

(Additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in Austin and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by Jerry Norton)