Winter storms impede travel and leave at least 6 people dead across the country

Historic snowfall and rain hammer U.S.

Last Updated Dec 2, 2019 6:00 PM EST

More than 50 million Americans were in the path of the latest stormy weather after heavy snow and freezing rain slammed parts of the country for days over the holiday weekend. Winter storm alerts stretched across 15 states Monday morning.

Some parts of the Northeast were expected to see more than two feet of snow. At least six deaths have been blamed on this weather, and thousands were without power Monday morning. The storms were making travel brutal for more than 55 million people returning home after Thanksgiving.

Dangerous snow and rain

CBS News correspondent Don Dahler was in the path of the storm Monday in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He said it snowed there all night, leaving almost a foot on the ground before the morning rush even began.

Across the nation, millions were facing historic snowfall, whiteout conditions and roads covered in sheets of ice and rain.

Major highways were reopened in Wyoming and Colorado after blizzard conditions shut them down. Hundreds of drivers on Interstate 5 near the Oregon-California line were stranded in the snow for 17 hours.

But it wasn't just snow; storms in Arizona caused flash floods that killed two children after the vehicle they were in was swept away. The search continued on Monday morning for a missing 6-year-old girl caught up in the same vehicle.

Fifty miles to the southwest, at least three tornadoes ripped through Phoenix, pulling massive trees from the ground, tearing roofs off buildings and causing thousands to lose power.

As the storm barreled northeast, New York police responded to more than 500 crashes around the state. The speed limit was reduced to 45 mph on several highways.

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A driver seen entering a car during a winter storm Sunday, December 1, 2019, in Northern New York. CBS affiliate WWNY-TV

Heavy snow had already buried some areas upstate, around Albany, and the National Guard was on standby in New York as some 1,500 plow trucks worked around the clock.

With more snow still falling in Massachusetts, state officials were asking people to avoid travel completely. They said if you must hit the roads, stay clear of plow trucks.

Travel trouble

For many across the country, getting home from holiday trips at one of the busiest travel times of the year has been made nearly impossible. The bad weather forced the cancellation of more than 800 flights on Sunday, the busiest day for Thanksgiving travel, and Monday morning there were already more than 180 cancellations reported. More than 400 other U.S. flights were already delayed.

As CBS News transportation correspondent Kris Van Cleave reported, it was shaping up to be a holiday travel season to forget.

Weather cancellations delay holiday travel

American Airlines expected Monday to be its second-busiest day of the Thanksgiving holiday season, and success was hanging on the weather forecast.

Airports of particular concern on Monday were Boston and Hartford, Connecticut's Bradley. But delays were also expected at the New York City area's three major airports.

Travel waivers were in effect for flyers, allowing them to make changes without paying a fee.

A Delta flight slid off the pavement on Sunday in Buffalo, New York, clearly showing the kinds of concerns airport and airline officials have to face. Some airlines stopped operations completely in Ithaca, New York, on Sunday as the storm hit.

On the other side of the country, heavy winds and rain soaked California's Bay Area over the weekend, contributing to ground delays of more than four hours at San Francisco International Airport.

Van Cleave said that while airlines expected Monday's storms to cause more delays, travelers were likely to dodge the widespread disruptions and cancellations seen over the weekend.

It was likely to be more of a missed connection day than a flight canceled day, he said.