Undeterred by costlier gas and airfare, millions of Americans set out Wednesday to see friends and family in what is expected to be the nation's busiest Thanksgiving weekend since the financial meltdown more than three years ago.
Travelers who tried to get an early start encountered heavy rains and scattered thunderstorms, which prompted flood warnings and closed some roads across swaths of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York early Wednesday. Snow mixed with sleet and freezing rain to make for treacherous driving and thousands of power outages across parts of New England and upstate New York.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey expects more than 5 million travelers to use its airports, bridges, tunnels and trains during the extended holiday weekend.
Travelers using the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan also are urged to allow extra time.
Amtrak reported that trains in and out of Penn Station were running mostly on schedule. Maxine Pagliano, who traveled up to the city from Washington, DC, said her train was only about 10 minutes late. "It was actually festive. Everybody was enjoying themselves, wishing everyone Happy Thanksgiving," she said. "It was very pleasant."
More than 1.3 million passengers are expected to pass through area airports and 42.5 million Americans are expected to travel nationally during the holiday weekend, according to AAA.
AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair said that lower gas prices — down by nearly 25 percent compared to last year — is spurring a pent-up demand to travel, despite the bad weather. "It might put a damper on things," he said. "But I don't know if it'll be severe enough to make people cancel their trip, but it will sure add complication and miserly to it."
It didn't stop John Mahoney. He did acknowledge the economy has changed the way he travels, which is why he and his girlfriend slept in their car instead of getting a motel room when a heavy, wet snowstorm flared up along the New York State Thruway during their 20-hour drive from New Hampshire to St. Louis.
"Americans will still do what Americans do. We travel the roads," he said.
Nearly 12 percent of the tri-state population will be traveling during the holiday weekend — a 3.5 percent increase over last year.
With reporting by Jim O'Grady and the Associated Press