Snow storm batters US east, piling onto holiday chaos
Clearing snow outside the White House in Washington, DC on January 3, 2022 ROBERTO SCHMIDT AFP

After a bruising holiday week of flight cancellations and record surges in Covid-19 cases, a powerful winter storm Monday further snarled US transport and shuttered the federal government and schools.

Many Americans have been scrambling to return home after the Christmas and New Year period, with several thousand flights cancelled since December 24 due to bad weather and airline staffing woes blamed in part on rising coronavirus infections among crews.

Nearly 3,500 flights Monday, the first workday of 2022, were already cancelled as of 9:45 am (1445 GMT), including 2,000 US flights or international ones starting or finishing in the United States, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware.

Combined with 2,700 US flights scrapped Sunday and 2,750 grounded on Saturday, the latest cancellations compounded holiday travel misery.

"Hey @SouthwestAir can you stop cancelling every single flight out of DCA (Washington National Airport)? I need to go home!" passenger Kyle Hughes wrote on Twitter.

Further disruptions snowballed as a winter storm hammered the capital and other parts of the mid-Atlantic, with official forecasts of five to 10 inches (12.7 to 25.4 centimeters) of snow in Washington.

"Heavy wet snow and gusty winds could bring dangerous travel conditions and scattered power outages," the National Weather Service reported in its latest alert, warning of possible "thunder-snow," which includes lightning and cracks of thunder.

Federal workers in and around the capital were told to stay home. But with telework becoming routine during the two-year coronavirus pandemic, it was unclear how much of the government would be affected.

Schools around the region were also closed due to snow.

Airports in Chicago and Atlanta -- major transit hubs -- as well as Denver, Detroit, Houston and Newark were hard hit over the weekend. By Monday the east coast airports in New York, Washington and Baltimore were scrapping the most flights.

A woman named Kayla described her own ordeal Sunday: "I was supposed to get home at 10:30 yesterday morning. and at this point I've had 3 flights cancelled and one delayed to the point where I missed my connection."

Around the world, air traffic has suffered snarls over the holidays because of airline staffing issues linked to the spread of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant.

Many pilots and flight attendants have called in sick after testing positive or being forced to quarantine due to contact with someone who has the virus.

© 2022 AFP