The Brancatelli File By Joe Brancatelli
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Spring's Existential Storm
After three Nor'easters in three weeks, spring arrived in the Northern Hemisphere. And along with spring came a fourth winter storm. Go figure. It was big and dropped big, wet flakes from Boston to Washington. Airlines dumped thousands of flights and business travelers shrugged. Eventually you just become immune to these things. Meanwhile, things took a nasty turn in Europe, which was still suffering with its own miserable weather. A general strike whacked the French air traffic control system at about the same time as a railroad strike and an Air France strike hit transportation options. Here is how we covered it. Read up from the bottom for the proper context.

3/22/18, 9PM ET, THURSDAY
BETTER DAYS (AT LEAST COMPARATIVELY)

The fourth Nor'easter this month paralyzed air traffic yesterday from the Ohio Valley to the Atlantic Coast. Around 4,400 flights were cancelled, according to FlightAware, including more than 70 percent of operations at New York/LaGuardia and Newark and about half the flights at New York/Kennedy and Boston/Logan. Today was dramatically better, however. As of 9 p.m. Eastern time, there were only about 800 cancellations nationwide.

3/21/18, 3PM ET, WEDNESDAY
WE DON'T EVEN HAVE PARIS ...

So, um, snow day in the Northeast. And, no, we won't even have Paris. First, the weird storm in the East.

Airlines have basically declared a snow day from Washington to Boston and, despite varying conditions, flights are largely cancelled. According to FlightAware.com, about 4,100 flights have already been dumped today, including huge chunks of the schedule at major airports. Here's a look:
+ New York/LGA: 70% cancelled
+ Newark: 65% cancelled
+ New York/JFK: 50% cancelled
+ Philadelphia: 45% cancelled
+ Boston/Logan: 33% cancelled
+ Washington/National: 33% cancelled
+ Baltimore/Washington: 30% cancelled
+ Washington/Dulles: 25% cancelled

The snow moves in mysterious ways, so to speak. It comes hard and fast with wet, heavy snow. Washington was clear at daybreak, but the city is now closed and roads are covered with snow.

American Airlines says it will cancel all operations at LGA after 1pm today. The Port Authority, which operates the New York Metro airports, says it expects all flights to end at LGA later today and virtually no flights will operate at Newark or Kennedy.

Road conditions in the Northeast are deteriorating, too. Train service is being reduced, especially commuter rail in the region. Bus services are being severely reduced.

Amtrak has cancelled a slew of trains already, both in the Northeast Corridor and trains to/from the area. See https://www.amtrak.com/alert/amtrak-to-operate-on-a-modified-schedule-wednesday.html

Now, onto the situation in France. There's a triple whammy: a general strike affecting air traffic control (today through Friday), French trains (today and Friday) and a work stoppage affecting Air France (Thursday).

Flights are being reduced by 30 percent around France, with the notable exception of Nice because it can use Italian air space for most routes. The situation will continue through Friday. You can track the state of Europe's unified air traffic system here: https://www.public.nm.eurocontrol.int/PUBPORTAL/gateway/spec/index.html

Air France says its long-haul routes will be protected: https://www.airfrance.us/US/en/common/page_flottante/hp/news-air-traffic-air-france.htm

The train strike is going to be especially ugly all through the spring. More on that tomorrow in Tactical Traveler. Immediately, however, many French trains will cancel through Friday. Eurostar service will also be reduced. More details here: https://www.eurostar.com/uk-en/disruption

3/20/18, 3PM ET, TUESDAY
SPRING CAN REALLY HANG YOU UP THE MOST

So it's now officially spring in the Northern Hemisphere. How's that working out for us?

The National Weather Service has made its forecast substantially more dire. They are now predicting upwards of 18 inches of snow in parts of the East: from Washington to Maine and now as far west as the Ohio Valley. In the border states, it may be freezing rain that will be the culprit.

Examine the county-level forecasts at http://www.weather.gov. This will be important because this is a large, sprawling front with lots of annoying factors.

It's already raining--and raining hard--in Washington and that has caused many delays and a slew of cancellations. About 270 takeoffs and landings have already been dumped at Washington/National. More than 250 flights have been dumped at Philadelphia. Flights are also cancelling at Baltimore/Washington. According to FlightStats.com, more than half of the 775 cancellations nationwide so far are at American Airlines and its commuter carriers.

For tomorrow, the immediate problem is at Philadelphia. More than 200 flights have already been cancelled. But expect many more as the snow begins to fall late tonight and tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, Southern California is expecting heavy rains, a real issue after the fires. As the National Weather Service says: "Long duration of rain with flooding is expected for much of southern California. ... Given recent burn scars in the vicinity of the Los Angeles area, flash flooding will be a concern."

Plan accordingly. In other words, stay at your desk if you can. Go home and have a nice first day of spring. A pasta primavera, perhaps ...

3/19/18, 8:30PM ET, MONDAY
AN EXISTENTIAL STORM

Now for an existential quiz: Can you have a "winter storm" alert in the spring? Looks like we're going to find out.

The National Weather Service is predicting from five to 11 inches of heavy, wet, travel-disrupting snow could fall starting in the very early hours of Wednesday, March 21. The current "winter storm watch" is in effect as far south as Washington, as far north as Boston and as far west as Pittsburgh. Depending on the area, the danger period starts at about 6pm Tuesday evening and stretches throughout Wednesday. Check your forecast at the county-level national map at Weather.gov

The problem there? Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 20, is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the spring equinox arrives at 12:45pm ET. And the only thing worse than winter storm watches is winter storm watches in the spring.

All that linguistic hair-splitting aside, however, this potential fourth Nor'easter in three weeks has led airlines to issue travel waivers for March 20-21. Check your carrier for details. Plan accordingly--and have back-up options at the ready if you need to travel in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in the next few days.

This column is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2018 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.