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Seattle ice storm shuts down Sea-Tac runways, adds to SFO holiday travel scramble

Massive winter storm snarls holiday travel on roads and at airports
Massive winter storm snarls holiday travel on roads and at airports 04:59

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a flash, they were all gone, morning flights to Seattle disappeared from the monitors at San Francisco International Thursday morning after an ice storm shut down the runways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

The cancellations merely piled onto those to airports in the East.

More than 3,400 flights within, into or out of the U.S. were canceled Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware, causing more mayhem as travelers try to make it home for the holidays.

Check your flight status: OAK | SFO | SJC

The huge storm stretched from border to border. In Canada, WestJet canceled all flights Friday at Toronto Pearson International Airport, beginning at 9 a.m. And in Mexico, migrants waited near the U.S. border in unusually cold temperatures as they awaited a U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether and when to lift pandemic-era restrictions that prevent many from seeking asylum.

US Department of Transportation Fly Rights 

"This is not like a snow day when you were a kid," President Joe Biden warned Thursday in the Oval Office after a briefing from federal officials. "This is serious stuff."

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In the Northwest, a separate storm front battered Washington state and Oregon.

"Freezing rain has arrived in western Washington and will continue to bring icy conditions to the region throughout the morning hours," the National Weather Service's Seattle office wrote in their morning forecast.

Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper told the Seattle Times that one runway had been reopened by 8 a.m.

Airport officials had been forced to close all runways at the Northwest hub airport in an "unprecedented" scenario that operations staff couldn't recall occurring in at least the last 30 years.

Cooper told the paper the ice was so thick on the runways that crews had been making multiple passes with deicing liquid to get to bare concrete.   

But the damage had been done. Flights into the Northwest would be disrupted all day in a domino effect.

Alaska Airlines tweeted shortly before 6 a.m. that all Alaska and Horizon flights out of Seattle and Portland were canceled until noon Friday because of icy conditions.

Bay Area travelers to the Northwest were advised to check with their airlines for their flight status.    

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