Blizzard Update – What to Do if Stuck

The orange area is where the blizzard warning continues. Essentially all roads are closed within the blizzard warning area.

Pink is a winter storm warning and blue is a winter weather advisory (a lesser condition). 
If you are on the internet, stuck in the snow, here is what to do.
The map below is the forecast additional accumulations from 5am this morning to 3pm this afternoon:

Wind gusts between 30 and 35 mph are now common with a few gusts to 40 mph.  
Believe it or not, more snow could occur later in the week in these areas. More on that late today.

The Storm at 6pm

Here is the AccuWeather regional radar at 6pm:

A line thunderstorms is moving east across eastern Texas. Strong winds are possible with a few of the strong thunderstorms. The purple is the transition zone from rain (east) to snow (shades of light blue, west). Very heavy rains are occurring over eastern Kansas.

The blizzard is in full force from northeast New Mexico to central Kansas. Orange = blizzard warning on the map below.

Pink = winter storm warning. Blue = winter weather advisory meaning inconvenient, but not dangerous, winter weather.

Winds are gusting to 50 mph from the north in southeast Colorado, far southwest Kansas, the western Oklahoma Panhandle, and northeast New Mexico.

The map below is the expected snow accumulation from 3pm this afternoon until 5pm Tuesday morning. Note: This does not include snow that fell prior to 3pm. There are very heavy amounts of around a foot between Salina and WaKeeney, KS on Interstate 70.

This will be the last storm update this evening.

Late Evening Winter Storm Update

The winter storm continues to develop and warnings are being extended. As always, let’s start with the forecast precipitation with this storm:

Click to enlarge all graphics.

Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Risk
While certainly not a situation where major tornadoes are likely to occur, tornadoes and thunderstorms with damaging winds are possible in the area marked “slight” risk. I suggest residents of these areas monitor the weather tomorrow for possible watches and warnings.

Blizzard and Winter Storm
Here is a map of the winter weather warnings and watches as of 8:50pm. The orange is a blizzard warning. Travel is strongly discouraged in these areas. Pink is a winter storm warning. Turquoise is a winter storm watch (mainly northeast Kansas) and the blue is a winter weather advisory.

This much is clear: Do not think about driving through the blizzard warning area — roads will likely be closed and/or impassable. You could get stranded!  The amounts over southwest Kansas will be in excess of a foot with wind gusts of 35 mph. Note the blizzard warning now extends over a small part of Interstate 70 between Oakley and Ellsworth, KS.

The ARM model shows giant snowfalls over southwest Kansas and adjacent areas of Colorado and Oklahoma. This big issue with this storm is how far south and how fast the cold air will move. This model has six inches in Wichita because it shows the cold air moving just a little south of the other models. In theory, this should be the better model. 

How, the new NAM model this evening has the whole area of snow farther north. Scale same as above.

This model shows almost no snow falling in Wichita. I’m leaning toward the amounts and locations on this model. The important thing about this model, if I am right and it is the more accurate forecast, is that Interstate 70 would receive very heavy snow between roughly Salina and Colby, KS. 

Another way to play this is to consider the probability of snow accumulation thresholds at your location. These combine a variety of the models. So, here are the probability maps, the first is the probability of 2″ or more:

This is the probability of 8 inches or more:

So, this update has been based on the very latest information. If you live in the area where heavy snow is forecast, please take this storm seriously.

So, where is the storm at 9:30pm? Via AccuWeather regional radar, it is over the Southwest. Note the bright red echoes (thunderstorms) W and SW of El Paso. This indicates it is a strong storm in the upper atmosphere.

Finally, thunderstorms have developed rapidly in southern Oklahoma which demonstrates that very moist air (more than adequate moisture for heavy snow as the air mass moves northwest) is in place and the instability exists for big thunderstorms tomorrow.

Quick Winter Storm Update

The range of outcomes on this some has widened somewhat … for the worse.

Here is the forecast snow from the GFS model: Slightly farther north with lighter amounts east of Interstate 135. The red area is 15″ or more!

And, the heavier snow from the North American Model:

One thing is clear: Southwest Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and the northern Texas Panhandle are going to get nailed. If you have travel plans on U.S. 400, U.S. 54, U.S. 83, or U.S. 50 in those areas you are going to have to go before the storm starts or wait. Given the more than 12″ of snow (with 15″ forecast in some spots by these models) roads will become impassible.  

One way to reconcile the differences in all of the models is to use a probabilistic approach. Here is the probability of more than 4″ of snow with the storm for the period from 6pm Sunday evening to 6pm Tuesday evening:

The probability of 4″ or more is 70% or higher all the way east to I-35 from Emporia to the Oklahoma border and on I-135 from Wichita to just south of Salina.

To help you time your travels, here is the simulated winterized radar for 6pm Monday evening. The red echoes northwest of the 32° (thin blue) line is very heavy falling snow.

By 9am Tuesday morning, it is forecast to be snowing over most of northwest Oklahoma, central Kansas, and into northern Missouri.

Please factor this storm into your Christmas travel plans.

Saturday Morning Storm Update

The multifaceted winter storm continues to develop. The earlier forecasts seem to be on track. Now, I’d like to fill in some details and answer some questions that have been received during the night.

Severe Weather
Yes, some is possible with this storm. Damaging winds and hail are possible with a very slight chance of a relatively weak tornado or two.

AccuWeather has more on the severe thunderstorm threat.

Precipitation Amounts
More beneficial moisture will occur with this weather system.

click to enlarge maps

Snowfalls
Of course, with next week being a period with more than usual travel, everyone is interested in the snow. The basic track and magnitude of the storm seem fairly clear at this point with the usual caveat that things could easily shift 50 mi. or so in either direction, especially since the snow isn’t predicted to begin until Monday.

Let’s begin with a probability of one inch or more map. Just pick out your location and compare it to the scale. That will tell you what the likelihood of an inch or more of snow at your point of interest. Note: These forecasts end at 6am Tuesday. In the eastern part of the forecast area, additional snow may fall after that time.

Probability of one inch or more of snow. 

Now, the probability of 4″ or more.

Finally, the probability of 8″ or more.

So, there you have it. This should get a lot of people into the Christmas spirit.

I’ll do another complete update tomorrow morning. In the meantime, check back from time to time. In addition to my regular postings, I’ll post anything more about the storm that I think is important.

An Amazing New Tool

You often hear of “black ice.” One form of black ice can form when fog deposits ice directly on roadways without precipitation falling from the sky. That is known as “freezing fog.”

A new type of satellite image depicts previously hard-to-detect freezing fog in shades of orange and red. Here is an example showing the freezing fog in the tough terrain of the Pacific Northwest.

University of Wisconsin, click to enlarge

More progress. This data will allow us to help keep traveling safer through better monitoring of dangerous conditions.

Two Week’s Rainfall

Here is the rainfall across the U.S. the last two weeks:

Click to enlarge, NWS data

While the High Plains re still far too dry, rainfall has significantly eased the drought in the low Plains.

The drought in the Southeast has eased somewhat with good rains forecast the next 5 days (see below):

No serious travel problems in the form of ice, snow, or flooding are expected between now and Sunday night. Snow may fall Monday in parts of the mid-Mississippi Valley.

Holiday Travel Weather Update

Things are a mess around NYC but that will clear later this morning.  Boston will be a mess until close to noon.

Thunderstorms will be affecting a number of Florida airports.

AccuWeather regional radar, click to enlarge

The Central U.S., other than areas of morning fog, should be fine.

Seattle and Portland are dealing with heavy rain and some wind that will last a good part of the day, especially in Portland.

AccuWeather has a great travel weather summary here. Safe travels and enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

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Wednesday’s Holiday Travel Outlook

Here is the forecast radar and areas where temperatures are below freezing (blue line) for 10am EST tomorrow.

The airports from Philadelphia to Boston should be a mess in the morning with numerous flight delays. Things will improve in the afternoon. Snow is likely from northern Upstate New York through Maine with a really messy mix in southern Maine.

The Central U.S. gets a break.

Weather will be improving in Seattle after a windy, rainy night but conditions are likely to cause delays in Portland.

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Holiday Weather Snapshots

Here is the forecast radar (along with the blue 32°F temperature line) for 6pm CST Tuesday:

click to enlarge

Except along the Canada-ID-MT border, all of the precipitation is in the form of rain. There is a line of strong thunderstorms from Cleveland through Cincinnati to Nashville to Huntsville. A few thunderstorms will also be affecting the NYC-area airports, if this is a perfect forecast. In the West, heavy rain is forecast for both Seattle and Portland.

Things get a bit better at 6pm Wednesday:

Snow is falling from northern Maine through western NY and down through the mountains of WV. There is enough rain from NYC through Boston that there will be flight delays.

Hat tip: Ryan Maue

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Thanksgiving Travel Outlook

According to AccuWeather, 42,500,000 are going to travel for Thanksgiving this year. And, while the drought relief is vital, adverse weather is going to inconvenience many people and be dangerous for some. So, I want to give a comprehensive overview so you can better plan your week.

Tornadoes and Severe Thunderstorms


I’m really worried about this one. As we saw in the Carolinas last week, out-of-season tornadoes can be especially deadly. People don’t associate tornadoes with November and/or people celebrating Thanksgiving from parts of the nation where tornadoes are rare don’t know how to get the information they need then react accordingly.

The tornado and severe thunderstorm threat is geographically limited today.

The threat grows in size tomorrow (Monday):

and spreads east Tuesday.

Please view these as relative probabilities: 30% is a big deal 2 and 3 days out! These storms have the potential to cancel flights and disrupt already packed flights.

So, if you are flying in these areas, PLEASE read my Airline Survival Guide! All of the compliments I have received from fliers who have used the Guide are very gratifying…this advice works. So, put this advice to work for you. Airline hubs in Dallas, Houston, Nashville, and Cincinnati are going to be affected by these storms.

Flooding

If you are traveling by auto, flooding may be a problem both early this week and again next weekend in the area indicated below in both shades of green. There is the potential the flooding area will enlarge for next weekend over what is indicated here. All extra time and carry a road atlas in case you have to reroute. 

There is also a concern that some flooding may develop in parts of Washington and Oregon late in the week.

Snow

There is some good news: Outside of the Sierra passes — where it will be very heavy — snow will not be a big problem prior to Thanksgiving day. That will likely be a different story for the return home. I’ll post on that in a day or two. Please check back.

Safe travels and enjoy Thanksgiving with your family and friends. We have so much to be thankful for.

Trading the Airlines for Amtrak

My Airline Survival Guide is my 6th most popular blog post ever. In it, I state,

In a catastrophic situation (September 11 or the Christmas Blizzard in NYC), don’t even go to the airport or, if you are there, get out!  According to a news story as I am writing this Continental Airlines had still cancelled 170 flights to Newark, five days after the blizzard!  If you were camping in the Newark Airport, you (and the airline employees) had no way to know on, say, Sunday, the flight they rebooked you on Wednesday would be cancelled four days later!  In these catastrophic situations take a cab, a rental car, a hotel shuttle bus or whatever it takes.  Get out!

Once you are out, what next?

In a catastrophic situation, forget the airlines. Find another way. Amtrak, Greyhound, rent a car – but do it quickly. I’d rather have my blog readers safe and sane! Wouldn’t you rather take a leisurely 2.5 days to get from (say) Chicago to L.A. on Amtrak rested and refreshed than risk seven frantic days trying to fly?

Here is the story of one man who did exactly that. Three years ago he got to O’Hare in a winter storm, found just about every flight cancelled and turned around and left. He then called Amtrak. His, and his family’s, lives have never been the same.

A comment: I disagree with the author of the story as to the friendliness of Amtrak employees. I have found them to be uniformly pleasant and friendly. Not once have I ever been “nagged at” by an Amtrak employee.

Three Perfect Days in Wichita, Day Three

Day One is here.
Day Two is here

Day three begins with a one hour drive to Hutchinson, northwest of Wichita. Your first stop will the Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center, ranked second only to the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum in Washington. It is one of just three museums in the world to display flown spacecraft for all three of the U.S. space programs, Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  Want to see the real Apollo 13? Cosmosphere. Want to see Gus Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 that ended up on the bottom of the ocean and the dimes that Grissom brought on board? The Cosmosphere raised it and restrored it. Fan of Chuck Yeager and The Right Stuff? You’ll see the actual engine that propelled Glamorous Glennis past the sound barrier. Jack Ridley is even memorialized.

Apollo 13

They even have a real V-1 and V-2, the rockets that terrorized London in WWII. All of this is designed to be enjoyed in a walking tour of the museum (you don’t need a guide).

After the Cosmosphere, have lunch at the Lone Star Cafe. Then, you have two choices for the afternoon.  If you have children, don’t miss the Sedgwick County Zoo back in Wichita. I have been to zoos all over the United States and our zoo is one of the best. Clean and easy to walk, the entire family will love it.

If it is adults only, stay in Hutchinson and visit the Underground Salt Mine Museum (click the link the read the numerous 5-star reviews). Because of the extremely stable, dry environment, it is the storage location of numerous original prints of Hollywood movies, TV shows and historical documents. It is an amazing tour that gets rave reviews.

To cap off your visit, have dinner at one of the many restaurants in northwest Wichita then end your visit with a movie at the Warren Theatre’s IMAX screen, the largest screen of its kind in the world. If you time your visit just right, you may be able to see “Tornado Alley” in IMAX 3-D.

After the movie, have an ice cream treat in the theatre’s restaurant or, if you are from a part of the country that does not have Sonic restaurants, go east on 21st a short distance and enjoy dessert at the drive-in.

That concludes Three Perfect Days in Wichita. I’ll have some concluding remarks tomorrow.

Three Perfect Days, Wichita. Day Two.

Day One is here. Day Two needs to be any day of the week but Sunday.

Have the Marriott pack some snacks for you and the kids, you are going to spend the day in the car touring the Flint Hills, my favorite part of Kansas.

You are going to head east of El Dorado on U.S. 54 up Kansas Highway 177.  You’ll pass El Dorado Lake, keep going for now. Just north of the Lake you’ll intercept the BNSF Railway’s “Transcon” line from Chicago to Los Angeles. It is a great place to watch trains or even pace them in your car as the tracks are right next to 177 in places.

Your destination is the Tallgrass Prairie National Park just north of Strong City on 177. You can watch the National Park Service’s presentation about the Tallgrass Prairie in the giant barn and/or hike the trails and visit both the mansion and the one room schoolhouse, both preserved and furnished as they were when they were in use.

My nephew, Andrew Vogliardo, in front of the one room schoolhous

After spending the morning at the Park, it is time for lunch and you are in for a special treat. Double back south down K-177 into Cottonwood Falls and stop at the — Four Diamond! — Grand Central Hotel and Cafe. Owner Suzan Barnes will take great care of you. Their rice & beans is to die for and they go perfectly with a hamburger.  Kansas is the #1 beef producing state and you can tell the difference in taste.

Before getting back in the car, shop for authentic western wear at Jim Bell & Son then cross the street and view the original art, photography and furnishings at The Gallery at Cottonwood Falls.

After shopping, you are back on the road…

The Flint Hills are a magical area with a wide open beauty difficult to capture with a camera. You are going to see it for yourself as you continue north on 177 to Alta Vista where you turn east on K-4 (danger, if you or your kids get carsick, stay on 177 to Manhattan, it is still a very pretty drive).

Going east on K-4 which then turns north to K-99, you will not only see the gorgeous green hills you will see miles and miles of restored stone fences and you’ll be glad you didn’t have to build them. In Alma, stop at the creamery and try their outstanding cheese.

Continue north on 99 to Wamego, then turn west on U.S. 24 to the home of Kansas State University, the Little Apple, Manhattan, Kansas. The campus is well worth a visit for its native limestone buildings.

Anderson Hall at KSU

By now, it should be time for dinner and you are in for another treat:  Harry’s Uptown in Manhattan. After lunch at Grand Central Cafe and dinner at Harry’s you’ll say to yourself, “I never knew they had restaurants like this in Kansas!”

Now, you are going to make your way back to Wichita by going south on K-177. Stop and watch the sunset as it sinks below the hills or behind El Dorado Lake. It is fine to get off the main roads unless it has been wet in which case you don’t want to try it without four wheel drive.

Get a good night’s sleep. Lots to see tomorrow in Day 3.

Three Perfect Days, Wichita. Day One


Downtown Wichita and the Arkansas River

Each issue of United Airlines’ in-flight magazine Hemispheres contains an article called “Three Perfect Days” (TPD) that tells the story of a glamorous destination and how to spend three days there. TPD is often authored by a native of the area.  The most recent five stories are Las Vegas, Sao Paulo, Ho Chi Minh City, Los Angeles, and Paris.
But, there are many smaller destinations where a great vacation can be had without dealing with huge crowds or high prices. One of those is Wichita. Recently The Boston Globe and The Washington Post have come to the same conclusion.  So, I thought I would take a shot at writing Three Perfect Days for Wichita.
The stories begin by suggesting a time of year and a hotel.  While a lot of people might suggest autumn, I am going to suggest late May, right after school is out. There are two reasons, the Flint Hills (see Day Two) are especially green and beautiful and there is a better than average chance of a Kansas thunderstorm.
Hotel?  There are two excellent choices. Both the (full service) Marriott and the Hyatt Regency are excellent choices.  In favor of the Hyatt is that it is downtown and near several visitor attractions (Exploration Place, stadium, Old Town). In favor of the Marriott is great food, customer service, and proximity to great shopping. Both have relatively new rooms but with the edge to the Marriott in that regard. My choice: Marriott.
Weatherwise, late May features highs in the low 80’s and lows in the upper 50’s. It is a time of year when thunderstorms are relatively frequent. A nice thing about Wichita is that you don’t need reservations to do much of anything. So, while I’m going to plan three perfect days, I want to allow you time to go out an watch a storm if the opportunity presents itself.  If you want to try to see a tornado (most Kansans live their entire lives without seeing one, let alone being affected by one), search the web for one of the tornado tour companies.
Day 1.  You are tired after your drive or flight, so you want to stay in Wichita. Start in Old Town with a stroll and lunch at Café Moderne. After lunch, you split up.

Exploration Place
Dad can take the kids to Exploration Place (www.exploration.org/ ) downtown to see all of the science exhibits (including real flight simulators), then walk up the river to view the fountains.
Downtown Fountains by the Hyatt
while Mom goes shopping at Bradley Fair and Towne East Square. Visit Sephora, Coach, and all the great stores.  Be sure to sample the gourmet chocolates at Coca Dolce and bring some back for the kids! The Marriott bus will pick you up and Dad can meet you back at the hotel, after perhaps a stop at All-Star Sports near the hotel. 
Dinner is a special treat, Chesters Chophouse and Wine Bar. It is one of the finest restaurants in town and is near the Marriott.  
Day Two tomorrow.  

Airline Crisis Survival Guide

Hope your New Year has started off well. After “sleeping in” this morning, I came downstairs and Kathleen had the Rose Parade on. The commentators were discussing some of the “horror stories” the bands had getting to Pasadena because of the blizzard. It wasn’t just the bands.
Here we are, a week later, and significant numbers of people are still stranded.
So, I wish to start the New Year with a little advice about how to avoid getting into these situations and, if you get into one, how to get out.
Photo of travelers attempting to rebook in NYC. Photo by FoxNews.com
Introduction
Before any airline flight, check the weather at your hub and at the destination. 
As usual, the forecasts of the Christmas Blizzard of 2010 were excellent. AccuWeather had it nailed as did the NWS.
I frequently clarify that Meteorological Musings is not a day-to-day weather site like AccuWeather’s, but I covered the forecast Christmas storm because I could forsee the travel disaster that was looming. You can review some of the forecasts here and here — with the oncoming storm described as a “nightmare.”  The airlines, for once, did the right thing and issued their “waivers” early that would have allowed passengers to change their plans – without restriction or penalty – to avoid the storm.  
So, how – seven days after the storm –  are people still stranded with some not scheduled to fly out until January 4; ten days after the storm? Why did the riot police (literally) have to be called at the Cleveland Airport Wednesday? It is because people flew into a crisis situation. Once at the hub, there was no way to get out. 
As a very frequent flier, one who was on the road on September 11, 2001 (and scheduled to fly back the next day), and a person who has worked extensively with airlines as client, I believe I have some insights that might be useful if you – our valued blog reader – ever find yourself faced with this type of situation. 
Avoidance
The number one rule must be to stay out of this type of situation if at all possible.
Keep in mind that most airlines use the “hub” system. You fly to a “hub,” change planes, and fly out.  Most airlines also have multiple hubs.  Take Delta, one of the airlines with hubs hardest hit (Atlanta and New York) by the Christmas storm.  Assume for a moment that you had wanted to get from Madison, WI to Mobile, AL for some warm weather and that you were scheduled to change planes in Atlanta on Christmas Eve when Atlanta reported heavy snows and major delays.
The goal, in this case, would be to avoid the potential weather problem: Solution, go to the airport the day before and see if they will reroute you through their hub in Memphis or in Cincinnati where the weather was fine. Generally, in these situations, they are happy to do so (note: they do not want to put you on another airline except as a last resort).  Avoid the problem!
Why did I say, “go to the airport”? It is my experience that, until waivers are issued, the airport people have more flexibility than reservations people or internet (and, until waivers are issued, there is zero flexibility on the internet).  The day before the storm, things are relatively quiet and if you go in between check-in periods, they will accommodate you.  How do you find out if there is a potential problem?  Use the AccuWeather “winter and severe” feature. 
If you cannot avoid the problem by switching hubs and waivers are issued (you can check this at your airline’s web site), then change your trip. Best move: Go early and beat the storm.
The Smith Family did this in 2000.  We had tickets to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas (we were driving in this case). A massive ice storm was predicted across Oklahoma the day before the game. So, I said, “get packed, we’re leaving in three hours!” I called the hotel, got our two rooms one night early, and we left without difficulty and made the drive in the usual five hours.
Gameday, we heard numerous horror stories about white knuckle twelve hour drives. As we drove back north we saw dozens of cars still in ditches on either side of I-35 and at least three of the giant interstate highway signs collapsed when cars slid into one of their legs.  
The reason I favor leaving early over delaying a day or two is that the effects of a major storm may still be lingering after the storm as is the case with the Christmas 2010 blizzard. 
Photo taken Wednesday from SkyNews.com.au
Don’t Believe What Airlines Tell You
What if, for example, you are flying back from a foreign country and don’t know of the hazard and find yourself stuck at an airport? The problem is that the airport is a horrible place to try to sort this out once the crisis has begun:
1.     Security. I love it (sarcasm) when I am at the gate (this just happened last month), the flight is cancelled due to a mechanical problem, and they want you to go to the counter to get things rebooked. My answer: No. In these days of grope searches and nude machines, I have no desire to go through security any more than once. I (politely) requested they fix the problem at the gate and they did. However, this would not have been practical if thousands were affected. Security makes it more difficult to fix problems at the airport.
2.     The airlines’ airport employees are exhausted, exasperated, and short-handed. Because of the storm, some employees will be late or not able to get to the airport at all.
3.     Airport vendors’ deliveries will not get through and they will run short of food/supplies and their employees will have problems getting to work.
All this makes the airport a terrible place to fix the problem while it is in progress.
Finally, I can’t emphasize this enough: You usually cannot believe what the airline employees tell you in these situations  Sometimes airline employees are poorly informed and sometimes they just plain lie. Regardless, you cannot trust your time and trip to them.
Keep in mind that the decisions to cancel or reschedule a flight are not made at the airport! They are made in airline dispatch and maintenance centers sometimes continents away. For example, American’s are made in Ft. Worth, Delta’s in Atlanta, AirTran’s in Orlando, etc. The frustrated airline employees are relying on people who may or may not fully understand the level of frustration at the airport.  If you would like to understand more about this, the Wall Street Journal recently had a story (click here, subscription may be required) on this very topic. It is a story of nearly 500 people stranded in Europe when American Airlines reacted poorly after an engine failed on a single aircraft.
In a catastrophic situation (September 11 or the Christmas Blizzard in NYC), don’t even go to the airport or, if you are there, get out!  According to a news story as I am writing this Continental Airlines had still cancelled 170 flights to Newark, five days after the blizzard!  If you were camping in the Newark Airport, you (and the airline employees) had no way to know on, say, Sunday, the flight they rebooked you on Wednesday would be cancelled four days later!  In these catastrophic situations take a cab, a rental car, a hotel shuttle bus or whatever it takes.  Get out!
Once you are out, what next?
In a catastrophic situation, forget the airlines. Find another way. Amtrak, Greyhound, rent a car – but do it quickly. I’d rather have my blog readers safe and sane! Wouldn’t you rather take a leisurely 2.5 days to get from (say) Chicago to L.A. on Amtrak rested and refreshed than risk seven frantic days trying to fly?
Kathleen and I were in Palm Springs on Sept. 11th. We were told the planes would start flying the next day – the day we were already scheduled to come home. I told Kathleen, “No way. Start packing, I’ll take the rental car fill it with gas, buy a road atlas, and tell Hertz we’re taking the car to Wichita.” We got home two days later. I went to the Wichita airport and got a refund on the return leg of our trip. 
Family members of mine were in NYC changing planes when Sept. 11th occurred. Flight cancelled. The airline kept telling them they would get out the next day, but they never did. Finally, on Saturday (5 days later, after rental cars were gone and Amtrak overbooked),  they ended up buying a car and driving it back to KC. They sold the car when they got home. The situation became that desperate.
If you are going to another continent or it is completely impractical to drive or take the train, find a hotel. Hotels have internet which is a better way to rebook (given waivers) than via telephone.  Some hotel rooms have speakerphones which are far superior, if you have to speak to airline reservations, than keeping a cell phone or pay phone pressed to your ear for hours or tens of minutes. Take a cab, limo, shuttle bus, walk (I did that once in Pittsburgh pulling my wheeled suitcase behind me), whatever it takes!
Unfortunately, none of this is foolproof. But, in general, once the airline dominoes start falling, the delays are worse than originally predicted. So, I would rather not undergo the stress (life is too short!) of camping in an airport for days.  Be proactive and you will probably have a much better time than being at the mercy of the airlines.
Note:  Kathleen said, after proofing for me, “will people remember all this when a crisis occurs?” I suggest printing it out and putting it with your travel kit for future reference. 
Hope your travels are smooth and pleasurable in 2011!

UPDATE 10pm Saturday: I’ve heard from a number of people about this posting, including one that got stuck in the Christmas Blizzard.  Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Pack a laptop, even if you don’t plan to work on your trip, if someone in your travelling party has work that must be done immediately on his/her return from the trip (or can’t afford to spend extra vacation days due to a delay). This is what we failed to do this year. I knew that I could go into my company’s branch office in Toronto, but my husband needed to get back to work. We didn’t have a laptop and he didn’t have access to the files he needed to conduct a productive day’s work. So instead of spending two enjoyable and productive days in Toronto, working and visiting friends, before flying home late on the 29th, we scrambled to get a flight in the morning of the 28th – and ended up spending all day and early evening trying to get home – with lots of delays, cancelled flights, and multiple trips through US Immigration and security. On my next trip (mid-January), I’m planning to email myself some files so I know that there’s some work I can do for a day or two if I get stuck somewhere.



  • If you need to rebook by phone, try a) calling an overseas call centre if possible; and/or b) try choosing the second language option if one is offered when you dial. When our flights through Heathrow were cancelled in 2006 at Christmas and the lines were jammed, I called the North American call centre for BA using Skype. I read on FT recently about someone who was able to get through on Continental after 5 minutes by choosing “Habla espanol” at the start of the call. (He was able to conduct the conversation in English with the operator.)
  • The above is also true with lost baggage. I’ve used it successfully on one occasion.  
And, now, from an airline agent:
Thank you, good suggestions, especially that people should NOT stay at the airport. I’ve seen this happen in weather situations and although we feel for people and their dilema, it becomes totally wearisome for ticket counter agents when the same passengers just keep coming back to the counter over and over, asking the same questions – “do you think planes will start flying by such-and-such time”, “will more flights be cancelled”, “I have no place to go”, “I don’t live in this city”, a lot of hypothetical questions and situations that we do not have the answer(s) to. Some people expect us to be social workers. 

We understand their desperation but at the same time you would be surprised how many people have no plan, no money, no credit card, no ability to get to another airport by rental car, bus, train, etc. I wouldn’t dream of taking a trip if I didn’t have any money or a credit card and I certainly wouldn’t spend my last dollar while on vacation in the event of unexpected problems. Also a good idea is to have a small bag with essentials – phone charger, sweater or jacket, underwear, towel, toiletries, creature comforts that can make a big difference if stuck at a connection point or anywhere else. I’ve seen people in flip-flops and shorts not suited for the bad weather or cold temperatures.

Finally, I am writing this while watching the Fiesta Bowl and one of the announcers just commented that the family of one of the players could not get out of Boston because of the blizzard. So, they traveled south to Baltimore and flew out of there. On Tuesday, just before noon, I wrote:


If you are stuck at one of the NYC airports, my suggestion: Take Amtrak home or go south on Amtrak or bus to Baltimore or D.C. where the snow is cleared and flights are operating more or less normally if the airline can give you a confirmed (in writing!) reservation and allows you plenty of time to get south. 

If they were reading the blog, happy to be of help!!

Late Week Winter Storm

This is the storm that, starting late Wednesday and lasting through Friday, will bring a combination of rain, ice, and snow from Kansas and Nebraska to points east. AccuWeather is following the storm and will have updates!