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Rain expected for Iowa holiday travel

Storm system could affect hubs served by Eastern Iowa Airport

A United flight from Chicago lands as snow falls at Eastern Iowa Airport in December 2016. (The Gazette)
A United flight from Chicago lands as snow falls at Eastern Iowa Airport in December 2016. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Travelers hitting the road to reach their Thanksgiving destinations could be on rainy — but likely not icy or snow-covered — roads in Iowa on Wednesday as a predicted storm system moves across the Midwest during one of the busiest travel weeks in the United States.

“It will mainly be a rain event for most of Iowa and Illinois,” said Tom Philip, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Davenport. “It depends if you don’t like driving in the rain — but we don’t expect there to be much of a travel impact his year.”

A moderate storm system is anticipated to form near the Rockies on Tuesday and move through the Midwest on Tuesday, according to AccuWeather. The storm could mean one to three inches of snow in most of the state.

In Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, a mix of rain and snow is expected Monday night and again Tuesday afternoon, Philip said. Cities at risk of “slippery conditions,” according to AccuWeather, also include Des Moines and Davenport.

But temperatures should warm up before Wednesday, Philip said — the busiest Thanksgiving travel day in the country, according to AAA.

“Whatever did happen will probably dry up pretty quickly, with sunshine and temperatures well above 32,” Philip said.

The only travelers who could find lingering snow Wednesday are those heading to the Waterloo area, he said.

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Nationwide, nearly 50 million travelers will be on the road this week, according to a news release from automobile service provider AAA and analysts with INRIX — about 3 percent more than last year.

Lower gas prices are likely a cause, according to the release.

Another 4.5 million travelers are expected to fly to their destinations. The storm system this week could affect hubs that receive nonstop flights from Eastern Iowa Airport, including in Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis.

Though the Cedar Rapids-based airport does not document passenger count by day, spokeswoman Pam Hinman said, the day before Thanksgiving traditionally has been the most popular for holiday flights.

This year, she noted Thanksgiving fliers had “started to trickle” through the airport since last Friday.

There are 33 departures scheduled for Wednesday, compared to 31 departures on Wednesday, Nov. 6, for example, and an airport daily average of 32 departures, Hinman said. Despite that small increase, she said there will be a total 353 more seats on the planes departing this Wednesday than on Nov. 6 due two additional Allegiant flights on larger aircraft.

In recent years, the airport has seen annual increases in monthly passenger counts for November. It saw 86,868 total passengers in November 2015 — a figure that grew to 94,866 in 2016, 96,997 in 2017 and 101,119 in November 2018.

Airport and airlines staff are ready for the surge in traffic and any weather that comes, Hinman said.

“Where it really gets hectic is on the return,” she said. “People leave on different days, but everyone basically comes back on Saturday and Sunday.

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“We ask for patience when people are waiting to get their luggage. The airlines certainly are working diligently to get it as quickly as possible.”

Comments: (319) 398-8330, molly.duffy@thegazette.com; (319) 398-8366, thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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