If the migrational mess on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving seemed familiar, perhaps it was because the same thing happened last year. Not just the millions of people trying to get somewhere by car or plane — that happens every year — but the coincidental arrival of a big winter storm.
The rain-ice-snow snarled East Coast travel for the second year running, causing massive airline delays and traffic jams as already cautious drivers had to line up behind phalanxes of snowplows and salt trucks.
It was as if the weather gods had placed a curse on Interstate 95 on a day that would be one of its busiest of the year. What’s more, the ribbon of roadway that extends from New England to Florida could not be coated in advance with the briny stuff that fends off the first snowfall because rain washes it away.
Heading north was the least pleasant option, as a rain-snow dividing line favored the more coastal areas with rain, while snow fell farther inland. The ski areas received a Thanksgiving blessing, provided people can reach them.
Ian Livingston of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang said the weather will be better, but far from perfect, on Thanksgiving.
“A trailing wave of mid-level storminess passes through the region to our south, and that may kick off some showers of rain and/or snow,” he said. “The favored time for that should be morning into early or mid-afternoon. Given this system passing by, expect clouds to dominate one way or another.”
Livingston said temperatures should be above freezing, but not by much.
Dropping temperatures overnight could make for slick going for those who waited out the storm and will travel Thanksgiving morning. The Maryland State Highway Administration warned people to watch out for icy patches Thursday morning.
For those who stayed close to home Wednesday, the storm didn’t amount to much. Traces of snow fell in some parts of the region, while others got a slender coating that turned sidewalks slippery and slowed traffic but did little to impede people from going about their business.
“It’s pretty calm out there,” said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
About 8 p.m., state dispatchers in Virginia and Maryland said there were no major accidents, and traffic was moving smoothly on all major highways in both states.
Two state troopers were reported injured in an incident near Hampton Roads, and there were some major hiccups in the southwestern part of the state. Closer to home, there were minor injuries reported after a collision that involved a tractor-trailer and a Nissan Altima on eastbound I-495 near I-395 around 2:50 p.m.
And it was business near normal in the District after the city and federal governments alerted workers they were expected to arrive on the job on time.
As people flooded the airports — 84,000 people were planning to depart the Washington region’s three big airports — delays and cancellations began to mount up and down the East Coast.
In addition to about three dozen delays at local airports, delays were reported at New York’s big three airports and in busy hubs in Boston, Chicago and Charlotte.
Newark Liberty International Airport was reporting delays Wednesday night averaging 2 hours and 15 minutes. At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, delays were averaging an hour and 20 minutes. In Boston, the average delay was an hour and 26 minutes.
When major delays take place at those hub airports, especially on days fraught with bad weather, those delays ripple through the aviation system. Across the country, more than 730 U.S. flights were canceled by 10 p.m. Wednesday, and nearly 4,700 had been delayed, according to the online site FlightAware.
Locally, airport officials said despite the bad weather and some delays, operations were relatively normal.
Reagan National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport “aren’t seeing any significant delays at either airport,” Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokesman Christopher Paolino said about 9:30 p.m. As for Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport, spokesman Jonathan Dean said that “the winter weather wasn’t a major factor at BWI today.”
Officials with the Transportation Security Administration, whose screeners will process millions of passengers this week, noted in tweets that at some airports, including LaGuardia, the lines for the Starbucks were longer than the ones to get through security.
After a Thanksgiving storm hit much of the Northeast last year, 21 percent of the 197,013 departing flights nationwide were delayed and 2,532 were canceled, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Yet 78 percent of flights arrived on schedule.
The airlines say 24.6 million people will fly this week.
Dana Hedgpeth and Luz Lazo contributed to this report.