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Tampa Bay area travelers — leave early and have backup plans

Among the throngs at Tampa International Airport, Florence Collins waits at the Southwest counter Wednesday on her way to visit her nephew on Long Island. “I hate the traveling,” she said.

STEPHEN J. CODDINGTON | Times

Among the throngs at Tampa International Airport, Florence Collins waits at the Southwest counter Wednesday on her way to visit her nephew on Long Island. “I hate the traveling,” she said.

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Except, perhaps, if you're traveling. With a storm heading toward the Midwest, airlines are warning of possible delays and cancellations, and the nearly 5 million Florida drivers taking to the roads may have to contend with thunderstorms. Still, things may be better on the ground around the airport. The final lane of the $215 million interchange project opened Wednesday morning.

. A winter storm is expected to move through Texas, the Mississippi Valley and toward Kansas City by today, said National Weather Service meteorologist John McMichael.

. The Southeast could face thunderstorms, while northern areas will likely see sleet and snow.

. North Florida could be at risk for thunderstorms tonight and early Friday, but the Tampa Bay area will probably see increased rain chances on Christmas before a cold front moves through.

. Tampa International Airport is expecting 44,000 travelers today and 40,000 Friday, said TIA spokeswoman Brenda Geohagan. Parking should be plentiful with about 25,000 spots available.

. Travelers should arrive two hours in advance for domestic flights and three hours for international flights, Geohagan said.

. Monitor the TIA Web site, tampaairport.com, for flight status. Check your airline's Web site in advance to know your options if your flight is canceled.

. The final ramp of the four-year Airport Interchange Project opened Wednesday morning, giving drivers two ramps toward the north and west after leaving the airport.

. Drivers heading to Clearwater on the Courtney Campbell Parkway should use the left lane on this ramp.

. Those going to the Veterans Expressway, Memorial Highway or Eisenhower Boulevard should stay to the right, said Department of Transportation officials.

. About 87 million people nationwide are expected to travel for Christmas and New Year's, with about 80 percent of those trekking by car, said AAA Auto Club South.

. About 4.8 million of those car travelers are from Florida, AAA spokesman Gregg Laskoski said.

. Drivers should check their tires for pressure and tread before heading out, make sure vehicles are in good condition and plan trips carefully to decrease drowsy driving, Laskoski said.

Tampa Bay area travelers — leave early and have backup plans 12/23/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2009 4:33pm]

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