Stormy weather complicates busy travel day before holiday weekend
Mother Nature was kind of a Grinch on one of the year’s biggest travel days.
More than 1,200 flights were canceled or delayed, and key highways shuttered, as Long Islanders hit the roads, rails and skies on the weekend before Christmas.
High winds and heavy rains moved in just in time to inconvenience those getting away or heading home.
The downpours caused a flood that temporarily closed all lanes on the westbound Northern State Parkway between Route 231 and Wolf Hill Road early Friday afternoon, police said.
Area airports took one of the biggest hits, with the Federal Aviation Administration reporting arrival delays at LaGuardia and Kennedy for much of the day.
According to the flight-tracking website FlightAware, there were 48 cancellations and 659 delays into, within or out of LaGuardia Airport as of 6:15 p.m. Friday, while at Kennedy Airport there were 20 cancellations and 549 delays. At Long Island MacArthur Airport, there were no cancellations and 15 delays, FlightAware showed.
At LaGuardia’s Terminal B, car traffic crept along in rain-soaked gridlock Friday morning as passengers were dropped off and picked up and ran for flights — or not.
James Marchetta, 23, of Garden City, and his dad, also named James, 62, had left more than three hours early for their father-son trip to Canada for a Rangers game, dodging flooding and traffic. “We didn’t take the Grand Central. That was too backed up,” the younger Marchetta said. His sister drove the pair to the airport.
They arrived early, but the flight was canceled. And the sister was coming back to pick them up — in even worse traffic.
The drive to the airport for Tracey Segarra, 56, of Hewlett, a marketing director for an accounting firm, took almost twice as long as expected — about an hour “with traffic and the rain flooding.”
Still, she said, “The LIE traffic wasn’t bad. I was expecting it to be worse!”
Segarra was waiting at Terminal B’s upstairs food court to pick up her daughter, Jessica, 18, who was coming home for the holidays from McGill University in Quebec.
Amy Schwerdt, 37, and eight months pregnant, said she was astonished at how quickly she, her daughter and husband zipped to LaGuardia from midtown — about 25 minutes — in an Uber.
Schwerdt, who used to live in New York City and has since relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where the family was flying Friday, had assumed the trip would take more than an hour.
"My whole life growing up here, it was a nightmare going to the airport," she said, with daughter Heidi nearby in a stroller as her husband took care of curbside check-in. "I'm like, 'This is unbelievable!'"
Still, she noted, their flight was delayed.
Allie Dylan and Colin Murphy, a couple in their 20s, were hoping to make it off Long Island Friday without too much trouble. The two passed through the Babylon train station just before 8:30 a.m. as they geared up for an 18-hour flight to see Murphy's family in New Zealand — with a layover in California.
“We were worried,” Dylan said, when asked if the weather was a concern. “Just because we have a layover.”
The pair, who live on Long Island and work as personal trainers, rode the escalator to the platform with several suitcases in tow.
The roads were wet, but police said they were not seeing any uptick in weather-related accidents.
Suffolk police reported multiple incidents Friday involving downed trees and wires causing road closures, and flooded roads in Huntington. There were no serious injuries, police said.
There were reports of trees down in Huntington Station and East Northport. And there was flooding on westbound Jericho Turnpike near Round Swamp Road.
In Nassau County, a car crash involving a telephone pole happened Friday about 10:15 a.m. on Cantiague Rock Road in Westbury, county police said. The crash caused the road to be closed in both directions, between West John Street and Barry Drive. The road remained closed Friday afternoon and was expected to remain that way into the night, police said.
State Police could not be reached for comment.
At least drivers won't be delayed by construction work: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that temporary lane closures for construction projects on state highways will be suspended "during peak holiday travel times over the next two weekends to ease travel for residents and visitors."
Work is ceasing from 6 a.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Wednesday. Construction also will be suspended from 6 a.m. Dec. 29 until 6 a.m. Jan. 2.
Cuomo cautioned that "some work may continue behind concrete barriers or for emergency repairs."
Carol and Harry Ahl of Center Moriches stopped at the Long Island Welcome Center off the eastbound Long Island Expressway in Dix Hills for a cup of coffee and a buttered roll.
They were returning to the Island after visiting with a daughter in Westchester County and going into Manhattan on Thursday night for the annual Christmas concert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“We thought it would let up, but it has been raining all the way and this was a nice rest stop,” said Carol Ahl, 79.
She and her husband, who is 77, also have a daughter who lives in Center Moriches, and that is where they will be for Christmas.
Beth Lebowitz, 69, of Brooklyn, was browsing the local honey and other snacks sold at the welcome center. She and her husband were traveling to Mattituck for a long weekend.
Lebowitz said the roads were “very, very wet and a little slippery — but this was the plan and we decided to go.”
On the rails, the Long Island Rail Road experienced minimal issues during the morning rush.
The railroad is providing 13 extra afternoon trains from Penn Station on Friday and again on Christmas Eve to accommodate the anticipated increased number of travelers.
There were no apparent delays Friday evening at Penn or Jamaica stations.
A record number of Americans will travel during the year-end holiday travel period, according to AAA Northeast.
AAA projects that 112.5 million travelers — more than one-third of all Americans — will take road trips, flights, cruises or ride the rails to their holiday destinations in the coming days.
The 11-day year-end travel period, defined as running from Saturday through Jan. 1, is one day longer than last year's, due to Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Tuesdays this year.
The total volume of holiday travelers has risen each of the past 10 years by an average of 2.8 percent, but with a strong national economy and cheaper gas prices, AAA warns that traffic may feel unusually bad this year.
With Arielle Dollinger, Joan Gralla, Antonio Planas and Joie Tyrrell