ST. LOUIS - Holiday travelers in the Midwest and parts East and South were keeping a leery eye Friday on a band of foul weather stretching across the nation's midsection that was threatening to mar the opening weekend of one of the year's busiest travel periods.
The Charleston County Aviation Authority provided some travel tips for flying during the busy holiday season:
Presents: Wrapped gifts aren't banned, but if a package triggers an alarm, the Transportation Security Administration may have to open it. Passengers are encouraged to ship gifts in advance or wrap them after the flight.
Food: When traveling with food, review TSA regulations.
Parking: Valet and deck parking at Charleston International is $15 a day; the surface lot is $8 daily. Two overflow lots served by a free shuttle open when the other options are full. It's $8 a day.
Preflight: Leave plenty of time to park, check bags and clear security. Consider getting dropped off. Taxi and bus services are widely available.
On the web: www.tsa.gov.
Forecasters were predicting a stew of foul weekend weather, from freezing rain and snow in the north to torrential rain in the Ohio Valley and Appalachia and possibly even tornadoes in the South.
The worst of the storm wasn't expected to hit Midwest population centers until Saturday, and although few flights had been cancelled as of midday Friday, the weather was already taking a toll on air travel: FlightStats.com reported more than 1,900 U.S. delays, with the most at Chicago's O'Hare, Denver International, and the three big New York-area airports.
The foul weather could cause headaches for the estimated 94.5 million Americans planning to travel by road or air during this holiday season, which runs from Saturday through New Year's Day. Concerns were similar a month ago, when a winter storm hit just as people were traveling for Thanksgiving.
While much of the East awoke to unusually warm temperatures on Friday, the storm was causing pre-Christmas travel worries from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York. In New England, communities were planning for a bit of everything - snow, sleet and rain - but were most concerned about the threat of freezing rain.
"The best advice for everyone is just to really pay attention. With every few hours, we're going to get better information," Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynnette Miller said Friday.
The weather service issued a flash flood watch from Arkansas northeastward through parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, with up to 4 inches of rain projected. With falling temperatures, some of that could be freezing rain by Saturday night in the St. Louis area.
Residents down South were concerned about tornadoes, which forecasters said were possible this weekend even though they are uncommon this time of year. The area most threatened stretched from central and northeastern Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and southeast Missouri, where 80 mph wind gusts and flash flooding were possible.
Tom Kines, an AccuWeather meteorologist, said a northern cold front clashing with warm, humid air from the South is causing the unsettled weather.
Weekend temperatures could surpass 70 degrees in Nashville this weekend and approach that in New York City, as well, Kines said. But by Sunday night, the storm will be hammering the Northeast, where residents could be treated to a rare winter thunderstorm.
If there is a silver lining, it's that Christmas happens mid-week this year, said AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter.
"When a holiday falls on a Wednesday it gives travelers more flexibility of either leaving the weekend before, or traveling right before the holiday and extending the trip through the following weekend," Hunter said.