Old Man Winter Disrupts Holiday Plans

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Winter storms are wreaking havoc on some holiday plans. It's hard to go shopping when you can't get the car out of the driveway because of all the snow and ice. Heavy snow has hit the Pacific Northwest, and its lowland cities aren't used to continuous days of snow.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Mr. Obama is on vacation this week on Hawaii, but two days before Christmas there's nasty weather in a whole bunch of other states, and that's making it hard to do the two things still on many people's minds, shopping and making it to family gatherings. Perhaps nowhere more so than in the Pacific Northwest, which is not used to really heavy snow. Tom Banse reports from western Washington State.

TOM BANSE: At the snow-covered Seattle airport there's a hint of thaw in the air outside. Inside there's meltdown of a different kind, not as pretty. There are mountains of lost luggage, thousands of people wait in lines hours long to rebook cancelled flights.

Airman ALEX JAMES: There's no flights going into Vegas that have any seating - available seating. So they told us we can probably use the money and put it towards a rental car, and try to drive ourselves down there.

BANSE: Airman Alex James and three Air Force buddies are anxious to get home to Las Vegas for Christmas. James is not inclined to drive 1,200 miles through the snow from Seattle.

Airman JAMES: We leave on our deployment on the first of January, so however long it takes us to get back from here is however much reduced our time home is before we leave.

BANSE: He's discovering what so many other marooned passengers are finding this week. Airlines have trimmed their schedules and packed their flights in a bid to be profitable again. That means once you lose your seat due to bad weather, you could be stuck for days waiting for another flight out.

Airman JAMES: Christmas at the bar. We'll see how - when, you know, it's kind of all up in the air right now. Have no idea what's going to happen.

(Soundbite of airport environment)

BANSE: The weather trouble lingers at the Seattle and Portland, Oregon airports. It descended into chaos when airlines ran low on deicing fluid. The lowland cities of the Pacific Northwest are just not used to snow for days on end. If ice and snowstorms happen more often you could assume there would be more resources at hand, like you'd find in Montana, Minnesota, or Maine. But here, this much snow falls less than once a decade. Olympia, Washington resident Nicole Grant needs to go no farther than the mall. Still, she says her family has postponed Christmas by a week.

Ms. NICOLE GRANT: I'm an adult, so I'm not going to cry, but we just can't get anywhere. We don't have a tree because the snow bombarded all the tree farms, and we're not really going to carry it or cut it down. Yeah, there's no point right now.

BANSE: We found Grant at the Westfield Capital Mall during a break in the weather. Shoppers were slip-sliding through the parking lot in a hectic effort to catch up on Christmas shopping. Eva Stephan(ph) works at one of the malls department stores.

Ms. EVA STEPHAN: It's obviously a lot slower than it really should be for only a couple days before Christmas.

BANSE: Retailers were already worried about slow sales due to the economy.

Ms. STEPHAN: Right, and then now it snowed. So, it's kind of a double whammy. And we're decently seeing that inside the store.

(Soundbite of Christmas Music)

BANSE: After all the endless repetitions of "White Christmas" out of store speakers, the Maritime Pacific Northwest might actually have one. More snow is in the forecast. For NPR News, I'm Tom Banse in Olympia, Washington.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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