SALEM, Ore. -- A major storm in the Midwest stalled airline travelers - even in Portland - for the holiday, as snow dumped along a large swath of states and backed up flights.
The storm began in the southwest -- where blizzard-like conditions canceled flights, shut down roads and caused a pileup involving 20 vehicles in Arizona on Tuesday -- and spread east and north, causing weather advisories from the Rocky Mountains to Lake Michigan. Rain, freezing drizzle and snow that fell in parts of the Plains and Midwest on Wednesday were just a precursor to what was expected later in the week.
Nearly 100 flights from the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport were canceled by midday. By late afternoon, though, a spokesman said most flights were getting out. The Oklahoma City airport shut down one of its three runways and canceled nearly 30 flights. Two-hour-plus delays were reported at Houston's Hobby Airport, and Chicago's O'Hare had hour-long delays and more than 30 cancellations.
Travelers packing the Portland International Airport were urged to arrive at least two hours ahead of time and be prepared for possible changes in flights conntected to the Midwest, even including possible cancelations. This, despite the clear weather in Portland. But as of Thursday morning, no delays or cancelations were listed on the PDX Web site.
Many Oregonians chose to drive to special destinations this year, instead of fly. A study showed that though gas prices are much higher than a year ago, holiday travel was projected to increase 11.2 percent in the region that includes Oregon.
Elsewhere, slippery roads were blamed for at least 12 deaths -- six in accidents on Interstate 80 in Nebraska, four in crashes on I-70 in Kansas, one in Minnesota and one near Albuquerque, N.M. South of Phoenix, where a dust storm set off a series of collisions that killed at least three people Tuesday.
The Midwest storm was likely to intensify by Thursday, bringing heavy snow, sleet and rain to a large swath of the Plains and the Midwest. A foot or two of snow was possible in some areas by Christmas Day.
A survey conducted by AAA estimated that 14.9 million people will travel 50 or more miles away from home during the Christmas and New Year's vacation period in the Pacific region, up from 13.4 million people a year ago. The Pacific region is comprised of Oregon, California, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii.
EVENT PLANNER: Find holiday events
Marie Dodds, AAA spokeswoman in Oregon, says the increased travel is a sign of rising consumer confidence. Another factor is that Christmas and New Year's Day fall on Friday, allowing people to take advantage of long weekends.
The Port of Portland expected a 20-percent increase in travelers for the holiday, compared to an average day.
Oregon State Police said agencies in Oregon planned enhanced enforcement efforts during the Christmas and New Year's weeks. ODOT's Fatality Analysis Reporting System showed during the last ten years over this holiday period there were an average of four traffic deaths.
Drivers were asked to report any suspected drunk driving by calling 1-800-24DRUNK (800-243-7865) or 9-1-1.