Mother Nature delivered a bone-chilling Christmas to much of the nation Saturday, but holiday travelers made it out in droves despite record snow that shut down highways two days earlier in the central states.
South Texas awoke to a rare blanket of snow, when up to 13 inches shattered records for the region. The deep freeze brought Victoria, Texas, its first white Christmas in 86 years and snarled holiday plans for thousands of travelers.
"It's totally snowed over," Tawnya Evans, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Corpus Christi, Texas, said Saturday. "It's unusual to see that here."
"A bunch of people are excited because it's a white Christmas."
The snow was expected to melt as temperatures warmed into the 30s and 40s throughout Christmas Day, but Evans said some of it could refreeze overnight.
Conditions on Indiana highways were improving Saturday, two days after a winter storm dumped up to two feet of snow in some areas, followed by subzero temperatures.
Indiana State Police said Interstate 65 near Seymour was still slick in spots on Saturday, but traffic was moving. They said almost all highways in southern Indiana were still covered by snow or ice.
The wintry mix caused hours-long delays on I-65 about midway between Indianapolis and Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday, when several semitrailers were jackknifed or stuck.
Authorities reopened a portion of Interstate 64 from the Illinois state line to Evansville in southwestern Indiana Friday, a day after more than 100 stranded travelers were rescued from their snowbound vehicles, which hampered snow and salt trucks from clearing the highway, police said.
A few small churches in rural areas of south-central Indiana canceled Christmas services, while even more called off Christmas Eve services to keep parishioners off the treacherous roadways.
Parts of Louisiana saw a slightly white Christmas, and freezing rain, sleet and low temperatures forced state police to shut down interstates and state highways on Saturday.
The New Orleans mass transit system halted all its buses and streetcars because of sleet and icy streets and rail tracks, spokeswoman Rosalind Cook said. "They're having problems ... with the buses operating and some of our operators are having trouble getting into work," Cook said.
Still, AAA predicted a record 62 million people, including about 51 million motorists, would be traveling this weekend and next, when New Year's Eve also falls on a weekend.
"We feel it's attributed to consumer confidence being up and people feeling more comfortable traveling post September 11," national AAA spokeswoman Aymee Ruiz said Saturday.
Hundreds of passengers traveling to Tampa International Airport late Friday arrived before their luggage, which didn't get in until Christmas Day, spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan said. Couriers were trying to deliver about 400 to 600 suitcases that had been stored in the baggage-claim area overnight, she said. The problem mostly affected travelers on Delta Air Lines and US Airways, she said.
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