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Waits shorter at O'Hare; snow deeper in West

CHICAGO — Christmas Day was the second morning Tom and Kristina Waltz and their two daughters awoke at O'Hare International Airport, after days of flight delays and cancellations that marred their holiday travel plans.

The family from Vancouver, Wash., tried to fly out of Portland, Ore., on Sunday, but a blast of snow and ice prevented them from catching a flight for two days. They finally reached Chicago, but then were stuck spending two nights at a hotel inside O'Hare, unlike others who had to sleep on floors and cots in the terminal. They were eager for their Thursday evening flight to Miami, where they planned to board a Caribbean cruise on Saturday.

"We are checked in" for the flight, Kristina Waltz, a teacher, said Thursday. "We'll go into the airport, have some lunch and play cards some more."

Elsewhere, deep snow was still causing travel problems Thursday in the West, where the National Weather Service posted winter storm warnings and advisories for large sections. A blizzard warning for the San Juan mountains in southwest Colorado said that as much as 3 feet of snow was possible.

In California's Sierra Nevada, heavy snow and whiteout conditions led police to shut down an 80-mile stretch of Interstate 80 for several hours on Christmas between the California-Nevada line and Applegate, Calif.

About 2 feet of snow fell overnight in the mountains around Lake Tahoe, bringing totals at some resorts in the past two weeks to 10 feet.

"The powder is so deep, skiers need windshield wipers on their goggles as they come down the mountain," said Homewood Mountain Resort general manager Kent Hoopingarner.

In the Northwest, hammered by storms over the past week, the weight of snow, ice and water collapsed the roof of Capitol High School early Thursday in Olympia, Wash. Assistant Fire Chief Greg Wright estimated that more than 2,500 square feet of roof fell.

Nearly a dozen flights were canceled Thursday at O'Hare, but no delays were reported. Chicago's Midway International Airport had no delays or cancelations, according to the aviation department.

On Wednesday, more than 100 flights were canceled at O'Hare, the nation's second-busiest airport, as airports across the country recovered from winter storms.

One American Airlines plane left a gate at O'Hare but hit an icy patch while turning onto a runway and slid sideways into the grass. There were no injuries, but the 54 passengers had to be put on other flights.

Though cancellations dropped off from more than 500 a day earlier and delays were shortened to about 30 minutes, airlines at O'Hare still requested 75 cots for passengers Wednesday night, said Greg Cunningham, a Chicago aviation department spokesman. Some people slept on the floor.

The temperature outside the terminal fell to zero, with a wind chill of 9 below, the National Weather Service said.

Elsewhere, wind gusting to more than 30 mph blacked out thousands of homes and businesses on Christmas in New Hampshire. The utilities Unitil and Public Service Co. of New Hampshire said the outages affected more than 100 communities.

Waits shorter at O'Hare; snow deeper in West 12/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 2:29pm]

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