Winter storms havoc: SA travellers to brace for flight delays and disruptions in Europe and US

2018-01-03 16:30
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Cape Town - Extremely cold weather in Europe and the United States is causing havoc for holidaymakers with flight delays as January temperatures reach lows last seen in the 1887..

South African travellers headed to these affected regions are advised to keep in contact with their airlines and travel agents, as well as make the necessary contact with their travel insurers if flights are cancelled as a result of weather conditions. 

Simmy Micheli, Manager Sales and Marketing for TIC, explains that if a client’s transport is cancelled or the pre-paid accommodation is damaged to an uninhabitable extent as a direct result of weather conditions, TIC will reimburse the non-refundable portions of travel and accommodation arrangements for which the traveller is liable, as well as any reasonable additional travel and accommodation expenses they might incur.

UK in the grips of Storm Eleanor 

Storm Eleanor is causing travel chaos on the roads of England as a yellow warning has been issued for relentless winds on 03 January.

There are currently 86 flood warnings and 149 flood alerts in place across England, Wales and Scotland. These include 44 flood warnings issued by the Environment Agency in England.

Public transport across the country has been disrupted or cancelled as the devastating storm sweeps across Britain. 

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Several major bridges have been closed due to high winds and there are numerous reports of fallen trees blocking roads. The situation is expected to improve within the next 24 hours. 

Amsterdam experiences flight cancellations

Although flights from South Africa have not been affected, travellers should take note that Amsterdam is experiencing “unfavourable wind conditions” with flight disruptions as a result. Some 59 flights scheduled to depart on Wednesday from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport were cancelled with wind gusts expected to top 110 kilometers per hour that day. 

Travellers who have booked a flight on KLM to, from or via Amsterdam (AMS) on Wednesday 03 January can rebook their flight without having to pay the change fee. The new departure date should be no later than 10 January.  

South US hit by sleet, ice and misery 

A brutal winter storm scattered a wintry mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain from normally balmy north Florida up the Southeast seaboard Wednesday, adding to the misery of a bitter cold snap as bridges iced over and cars spun out on slickened overpasses. The coastal city that hasn't seen measurable snowfall since February 2010 was expecting up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) of snow and sleet in the forecast Wednesday. 

The National Weather Service said the snow and freezing rain was expected to spread up the coast to the Carolinas, amid warnings that icy roads and low visibility could make driving treacherous. Accumulations of 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) were possible in eastern North Carolina.

Georgia Govenor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency through Friday for 28 counties because of the frigid weather.

The weather service said up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow could fall as far south as Tallahassee, Florida. In fact, snow began falling in Tallahassee early Wednesday — a rare occurrence in the north Florida city.

In central Florida, the state's largest theme parks announced that water attractions such as Disney's Typhoon Lagoon, Universal Orlando's Volcano Bay and SeaWorld's Aquatica were closed Wednesday because of the cold snap.

In Brunswick, Georgia, on the Atlantic coast, law enforcement agencies reported freezing rain and ice on bridges early Wednesday. The icy conditions also were hampering early morning travel in Florida.

Dangerously cold conditions in New York as a result of Storm Grayson 

In other parts of the US, dangerously cold temperatures have been blamed for at least a dozen deaths as well as freezing a water tower in Iowa and halting ferry service in New York.

Weather experts have agreed New York City is currently experiencing one of the coldest January months in decades.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch from late Wednesday night through Thursday evening. “Storm Grayson” will affect parts of northern Florida, southeastern Georgia and the eastern Carolinas, with a threat of ice and snow along the southeast coast.

Forecasters are expecting the storm to become a so-called “bomb cyclone”, which means the pressure will drop as low as hurricane winds. 

Delta Air Lines has warned travellers that some flights in the Southeast and Northeast may be affected by the winter weather. The airline has announced that travellers wanting to cancel their trip as a result of a flight cancellation or a significant delay are entitled to a refund for the unused portion of their ticket. 

ALSO SEE: UPDATE: Heavy snow, high winds wreak havoc across Europe

The airline has also waived the change fee for travellers who wish to alter their travel plans to affected destinations. 

American Airlines similarly has issued a travel warning confirming that cities in the North-eastern United States may be affected by the storm. 

If travellers wish to change their flight, a change fee may be waived if they are travelling on an American Airlines flight, have bought their ticket by 02 January, are scheduled to travel between 04 January and 05 January and can travel up until 08 January. They also have to rebook in the same cabin and are not allowed to change their origin or destination city.

“Airlines in North America are forecasting disruption over the next day as a result of Storm Grayson. Travellers headed to the US should check with their travel agent and/or airline to check whether they qualify to change the date of their flight without incurring penalties due to the severe weather that we are currently seeing in the northern hemisphere,” says Nicky Potgieter, Flight Centre Travel Group Leisure Marketing Leader. 

The National Weather Service issued wind chill advisories and freeze warnings Tuesday covering a vast area from South Texas to Canada and from Montana through New England.

Indianapolis early Tuesday tied a record low of minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 Celsius) for January 2 set in 1887, leading Indianapolis Public Schools to cancel classes. And the northwest Indiana city of Lafayette got down to minus 19 (-28 Celsius), shattering the previous record of minus 5 (-21 Celsius) for the date, set in 1979, the National Weather Service said. After residents there began complaining of a hum, Duke Energy said it was caused by extra power surging through utility lines to meet electricity demands.

"The temperatures are certainly extreme, but we've seen colder," said Joseph Nield, a meteorologist in Indianapolis, noting that the all-time low temperature in Indiana was minus 36 (-38 Celsius) in 1994.

Nevertheless, the cold is nothing to trifle with, forecasters warned.

With Chicago-area wind chills expected between -35 and -20 degrees (-37 and -29 Celsius), forecasters warned of frost bite and hypothermia risks and urged residents to take precautions, including dressing in layers, wearing a hat and gloves, covering exposed skin and bringing pets indoors.

Atlanta hospitals were seeing a surge in emergency room visits for hypothermia and other ailments as temperatures plunge well below freezing. The temperature in Atlanta fell to 13 degrees (-11 Celsius) before dawn on Tuesday. 

Warming shelters were opened across the South as freeze watches and warnings blanketed the region, including hard freeze warnings for much of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Plunging temperatures in Texas brought rare snow flurries as far south as Austin, and accidents racked up on icy roads across the state. In the central Texas city of Abilene, the local police chief said more than three dozen vehicle crashes were reported in 24 hours. 

Popular Orlando theme park closes certain rides

The National Weather Service issued winter storm watches and warnings for Florida with a mix of snow and ice predicted. This is the state's first such warning in almost four years, the weather service said. 

As a result, three Florida theme parks in the Orlando area plan to shut down. While the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios remain open, Disney plans to close its Typhoon Lagoon park until 04 January. That could be extended if temperatures don’t warm up.

Sea World is shutting down Aquatica through Thursday and Universal Orlando plans to close Volcano Bay through Friday.

Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay will be closed through Friday, officials told NBC 6. Earlier reports indicated it would be closed through Tuesday, however, the impending forecast of rain and dropping temperatures from a cold front stalled over the state will keep it closed through the end of the work week.

ALSO SEE: Delayed! Heavy snow causes travel mayhem in northern Europe

Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and SeaWorld’s Aquatica will be closed through Thursday due to the weather, however, Disney officials said they would evaluate later in the week if a longer closure would be needed.