Thousands of Bay Area travelers were stuck getting home late for the holidays thanks to local rains and nasty storms in the Midwest and East Coast on Wednesday -- and more lousy weather threatens to ground passengers later this week and into the New Year's weekend.
The worst of the weather on Wednesday, as usual, was outside California, as blizzards from Ohio to New England and thunderstorms in the Southeast grounded more than 1,000 flights, short-circuited power to thousands of homes and were blamed for at least six deaths.
A couple-dozen flights from Bay Area airports, mostly to New York, Philadelphia and Dallas, were grounded on Wednesday, largely because of the storms elsewhere. Those delays came on top of several days of slow air travel as a result of rain here.
Airport officials advised passengers to call their airlines and use caution the next few days as, even though it will be nice here, the snow and icy conditions in the eastern half of the country threaten to delay Bay Area flights into Thursday and perhaps beyond.
And with another storm coming here Friday night, which would drop up to an inch of rain on some parts of the Bay Area into Saturday morning, the delays could continue into the New Year's holiday weekend. But one thing is on travelers' side: Travel should be spread out across the four-day weekend, easing the pain.
"Kids are out of school for two to three weeks and people take lengthy vacations, so we'll see a little uptick in passenger volumes on Friday and Sunday but certainly nothing record-breaking," said Doug Yakel, spokesman at San Francisco International, the region's largest airport.
And there's more sunny news: Those elusive clear skies we've all been waiting for arrived Wednesday afternoon and were expected to continue until Friday evening. After the rains return briefly on Friday, the region should dry out from Saturday afternoon through the middle of next week, the National Weather Service said.
Earlier in the morning Wednesday, another quarter-inch to half-inch of rain fell on most of the Bay Area. That pushed the winter rainfall totals since July to about 45 percent higher than average: about 6½ inches in San Jose, 10 inches in Oakland and nearly 12 inches in San Francisco, according to the weather service.
San Jose has had its wettest rainy season to date since 2004 and 2002, when there was more than 8 inches of rain in the South Bay. Similarly, this has been the wettest December since 2005 for both San Jose and San Francisco.
"What it means is we're off to a good start," said Jan Null, a forecaster with Golden Gate Weather Services, but "it certainly is not crazy wet." And, a wet December does not necessarily correlate to a rainy January or February, he said.
South of the Bay Area, Highway 1 near Big Sur was still closed Wednesday because of a rock slide on Sunday.
In the Sierra, vehicles were moving slowly as snow continued to blanket the Lake Tahoe region that has had more than five feet of fresh snow in less than a week.
"If you're trying to get home and up to the slopes (Wednesday) night, it's going to be a very long drive," said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. "I would wait until (Thursday or early Friday), or definitely Sunday."
Problems from the tail-end of Wednesday's storm, which continued a wet five-day stretch, were relatively small.
A portion of San Francisquito Creek in East Palo Alto that flooded earlier in the week was quiet Wednesday. A two-mile stretch of the Great Highway in San Francisco was closed because of flooding Wednesday afternoon. The Santa Clara Valley Water District was keeping a close watch on Uvas Creek south of Morgan Hill, which was close to overflowing.
SFO had a handful of delays that averaged just less than one hour to New York City, Philadelphia and Dallas, Yakel said. Mineta San Jose and Oakland international airports each had a few delays, averaging about a half-hour, to eastern cities on Wednesday.
"Activity will taper off the next few days, then resume to another high-point on Jan. 2 as travelers return to work and school," said Rosemary Barnes, a San Jose airport spokeswoman.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.
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