SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Wintry weather temporarily loosened its grip across much of the U.S. just in time for Thanksgiving, but travelers were bracing for heavy snow and blizzard conditions in some areas as they made plans to return home. 

The wind, ice and snow that tied up major highways and airports Tuesday and Wednesday largely let up Thursday, with a notable exception in California, where the main north-south Interstate 5 was shut down in Southern California as heavy snow blanketed the region. The southbound lanes were later reopened.

High winds that had ripped a wooden sign from scaffolding on Chicago’s Willis Tower and nearly felled the Christmas Tree to close Cleveland’s Public Square Wednesday were calm enough by Thursday morning to allow the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York to proceed, albeit with balloons flying at lower levels.

The National Weather Service predicted things could get dicey for holiday travelers’ trips home. Heavy mountain snow and high winds were forecast across much of the West. The next storm system was expected to drop up to 2 feet of additional snow from the Sierra Nevada to the central and northern Rockies as it rolls across a large swatch of the western and central United States.

In Northern California, there a Winter Storm Warning and Winter Weather Advisory are in effect for the upper Foothills and Sierra until 4 p.m. Thanksgiving. Elevations over 2,500 feet could get six to 16 inches of snow by the end of the day. 

There's also a chance of thunderstorms on Thanksgiving in the Sacramento area until 4 p.m. Travelers can expect light winds from 5 - 14 mph around the region, but will calm in the evening. On Friday, we should see a better travel day for the Valley. Expect a mostly sunny day with a slight chance of passing showers from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Travel delays are expected today because of freezing temperatures on Friday and heavy snow this weekend.

In California, authorities grappling with the second closure of I-5 in three days suggested alternate routes Thursday as they worked to clear the road. A previous closure on Tuesday stranded hundreds of people, and Thursday’s seemed likely to separate some families for the holiday.

Christina Williams and her 13-year-old son, who live in Portland, got stuck in the storm as they tried to drive to the San Francisco area for Thanksgiving. Williams said she and other stranded drivers connected on Twitter using weather-related hashtags and began to communicate to find out what conditions were like in other parts of the backup.

“There were spinouts everywhere. There were trucks that were abandoned. And every time we stopped and started moving again, there were people who couldn't start moving again,” Williams said. “Every time we stopped I was like, ‘Is this it? Are we going to be here overnight?’”

It took more than 17 hours to reach Redding, Calif., where they got a hotel room, she said. Snow and downed trees and power lines closed roads. Others were reduced to a single lane, transportation officials said.

Transportation officials and other agencies tried to communicate the seriousness of the storm, but many drivers were still caught by surprise, said Don Anderson, deputy director of the California Department of Transportation in Redding.

For up to the minute road closure information, follow CHP Placerville, CHP Truckee, and Caltrans District 3 on Twitter. 

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