Memorial Day travel: East Coast storms delay plans

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Fierce storms swept through the Washington region and along parts of the East Coast on Friday, upending travel plans for people headed out for Memorial Day weekend getaways.

Delays and cancellations were reported at airports in the Northeast. In the DC region, the Federal Aviation Administration reported significant delays – in some cases an hour or more – for departing flights at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall, Reagan National and Dulles International airports as storms moved through.

The FAA also issued ground stops limiting air traffic at BWI and National. The agency later lifted those restrictions, but significant delays remained.

With more storms expected Friday, officials with the Maryland State Highway Administration urged people who are planning to drive to put off travel until Saturday, when weather is expected to improve.

Many of those who did hit the road Friday found their drives slowed by weather. Those headed to Eastern Shore beaches encountered delays crossing the Bay Bridge after Maryland officials halted two-way traffic because of wind. Eastbound delays stretched for six miles.

The National Weather Service early Friday issued a tornado watch for much of the Washington region into the afternoon.

A line of storms that swept through the region between 11 am and 1:30 pm caused widely scattered tree damage and prompted several tornado warnings. However, no tornadoes have been confirmed, according to the Capital Weather Gang.

The timing could not have been worse for those hoping to get away for the weekend.

Millions expected to travel this Memorial Day despite high prices for gas, hotels, airfare

According to flight tracking website FlightAware, more than 1,000 flights within, into or out of the United States were canceled by early Friday afternoon, while nearly 3,000 others were delayed. Among the airports hit hardest were Newark Liberty, LaGuardia and National airports. At National, an estimated 85 flights were canceled – about 19 percent of those scheduled to depart Friday – while 125, or 27 percent, were delayed, according to FlightAware.

By comparison, on Thursday, only 216 flights into, within and out of the United States were canceled.

According to estimates from AAA, 39.2 million people – 8 percent more than last year and 92 percent of pre-pandemic levels – are expected to travel over the Memorial Day weekend, what many have come to view as the unofficial start of the summer season. Those estimates come despite higher costs for gas, airfare and hotels and a significant increase in coronavirus infections.

Compared to last year’s holiday weekend, AAA expects a 4.6 percent increase in car travel and a 25 percent increase in airplane trips.

Memorial Day weekend will be an early test of how well airlines have prepared for the expected surge in travelers this summer and how quickly they can bounce back when weather disrupts operations. Carriers have reduced schedules while hoping to improve reliability, but fewer flights also will mean fewer seats to accommodate passengers whose flights are delayed or canceled.

First round of storms exits DC area, stronger evening wave possible

According to the Capital Weather Gang, a second round of storms is likely Friday evening. Those storms could bring damaging winds, hail and a tornado or two. A flood watch is in effect through Friday evening.

Jason Samenow and A. Camden Walker contributed to this report.

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