By Colleen Jenkins
(Reuters) - A wintry blast of heavy rain, wind and snow across the eastern United States disrupted Thanksgiving travel plans on Wednesday for some of the millions of Americans hitting the roads and taking to the skies on the busiest holiday travel day of the year.
While the travel delays were not as bad as many had feared, meteorologists warned that falling temperatures could create icy road conditions for those who put off travel until Wednesday night.
The wintry weather caused around 265 flight cancellations and prompted delays at major airports along the East Coast, including Boston's Logan Airport and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport, according to the FlightAware.com tracking site.
Tim O'Heir, an audio professional working on a Broadway show in New York, said his flight home to Dallas from LaGuardia Airport was delayed by two hours.
"As long as it gets me there, I don't care," he said. "I'm just worried because I got a $60 turkey in the fridge. And my wife can't boil water."
Kenneth McIntyre said he had a hassle-free flight from Minneapolis to the Philadelphia International Airport, where delays were already being reported early in the day.
"It was so smooth, I didn't know there was anyone else traveling," said McIntyre, who planned to spend the holiday with relatives.
Travel conditions were expected to worsen later on Wednesday, with a combination of precipitation and rapidly falling temperatures resulting in slick roads, according to AccuWeather.com meteorologist Bill Deger.
"Travel around some of the big cities by road could be a little tricky if people wait until tonight," Deger said.
Rain was moderate to heavy in the Southeast, mid-Atlantic region and Northeast on Wednesday, with light to moderate snowfall from the southern Appalachians to western New York, the National Weather Service said.
SNOW IN SOME AREAS
The National Weather Service said western Pennsylvania, western New York and Vermont could get more than a foot of snow before skies cleared on Thursday. Flood watches were in effect for eastern portions of the Northeast United States.
The Thanksgiving holiday is one of the nation's busiest travel times, with 43 million Americans expected to make trips this weekend, travel group AAA said.
Eight states along the Interstate 40 corridor connecting North Carolina to California bolstered their patrol of the 2,555-mile highway on Wednesday with state troopers posted every 20 miles, part of an effort to help prevent traffic fatalities, said Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott.
Some 37 percent of travelers will leave on Wednesday, making it the year's busiest single day of holiday travel, AAA said. That travel forecast was expected to hold true despite the stormy conditions, AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter said.
"With the storm we expect some people may have shifted their dates, leaving earlier to get ahead of it," she said.
The giant character balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York may be grounded if the winds are too strong. City regulations prohibit flying the huge balloons when sustained winds top 23 miles per hour (37 km per hour), and gusts exceed 34 mph.
The National Weather Service predicted on Wednesday that New York City would be sunny and breezy on Thursday, with winds up to 24 mph and gusts as high as 40 mph.
Gusting winds toppled a tractor-trailer on Interstate-77 in Virginia on Wednesday, slowing traffic that otherwise had been flowing briskly, according to an employee at the welcome center in Lambsburg by the Virginia-North Carolina state line.
Travelers were in good spirits and eager to arrive at their destinations, said Tonja Koger, the center's tourism relations manager.
"They're ready to get to grandma's Thanksgiving," she said.
(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson, Karen Jacobs, Barbara Goldberg, Curtis Skinner, Brendan O'Brien, Tim Ghianni and Dan Kelley; Editing by Maureen Bavdek and Gunna Dickson)