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Fog in Chicago, mudslides near Everett disrupting pre-Thanksgiving travel

Post by John Gillie / The News Tribune on Nov. 21, 2012 at 10:35 am |
November 21, 2012 11:14 am

Airports and train stations are reporting big crowds today in Western Washington, but only flights headed for airports in the Upper Midwest near the Great Lakes and train travelers bound for cities north of Seattle are reporting significant travel disruptions.

Fog shut down flights to and from Chicago’s two airports this morning and delayed flights from other airports such as Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.

That fog was so heavy that Chicago airport operators reported virtually no horizontal visibility early Wednesday. The weather was expected to clear as the day progressed.

One Alaska Airlines flight to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport delayed its departure from Sea-Tac from 8:37 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. today to ensure it would arrive in Chicago after the fog lifted. Southwest Airlines postponed a departure to Chicago’s Midway Airport from 11:15 a.m. to 4:20 p.m.

Meanwhile train travel from Seattle northward was canceled on Amtrak and Sound Transit at least through Thanksgiving because of mudslides that hit the tracks near Everett earlier this week. Passengers ticketed on the trains are being provided alternate bus transportation.

Amtrak is providing updates on its Twitter account.

The BNSF Railway, on whose tracks the passenger trains operate, closes those tracks to passenger traffic for 48 hours after a slide even though the tracks have been cleared. That delay is to ensure that the hillsides have stabilized.

Amtrak, meanwhile, has scheduled 11 extra trains during the holiday period in the Seattle-Portland corridor to handle increased crowds. Most of those trains stop in Tacoma.

The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory until 10 p.m. Forecasters expect 3 to 11 inches of snow in the mountains, with the snow level down to 3,000 feet.

The three open major mountain passes connecting Western and Eastern Washington reported no major issues this morning. Snoqualmie Pass was bare and wet with snow and slush in places. Traction tires were advised, but not required. Both Stevens and White passes reported more snow and slush than Snoqualmie but weren’t requiring traction tires or chains.

The snow level is forecast to rise Thursday, but there’s still a chance of freezing temperatures in the passes.

Both the North Cascades Highway and Chinook Pass have been closed for the winter because of heavy snowfalls and slides.

Pass conditions can change quickly. Check the Washington State Department of Transportation website for up-to-date details.

Another front Friday will bring more precipitation and the threat of rain and snow showers through the Thanksgiving weekend.

WSDOT said it expects the greatest highway congestion beginning early this afternoon through early evening as holiday travelers head out.

The state’s ferry system warned to expect significant waits for ferries Wednesday afternoon and Friday morning. Some ferries such as the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route will operate on a weekend schedule on Thanksgiving. Other routes such as the Vason-Fauntleroy and Vashon-Southworth routes will operate on a regular weekday schedule.

Capacity will be down on some routes because the 188-car Walla Walla is being repaired after a fire in the engine compartment during routine maintenance. That ferry could be out of service for months while the system restores the propulsion system.

Please check the ferry system website for changes and details.

The transportation department offers an array of travel trips for the weekend. Among the obstacles they identify in the Puget Sound region:

• I-5 and I-90 express lanes in Seattle will operate on weekend schedule Thanksgiving Day.

• Expect heavy traffic the morning of Friday morning, at I-5 exits to downtown Seattle, due to the Macy’s Holiday Parade.

• The Seattle Marathon will close ramps on I-5 and SR 520 along with the I-5 and I-90 express lanes on Sunday.

• WSDOT is predicting heavy traffic virtually all Sunday as travelers head home before the beginning of the work week.

The Associated Press and WSDOT contributed to this post.

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