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LINCOLN — Even though the worst of the winter weather striking from California to the Upper Midwest is expected to miss Central Illinois this weekend, Thanksgiving holiday travelers locally may see thunderstorms Saturday and light snow and blustery winds on Sunday.

Kirk Huettl, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln,  doesn't expect wind gusts as severe as those experienced Wednesday, when they reached 60 mph in some parts of Central Illinois. Instead, wind gusts may be 30 to 35 mph, he said.

Likewise, snow accumulation on Sunday is expected to be light, with a chance of rain and snow in the morning, transitioning to rain in the afternoon, then possible snow showers at night.

Still, travelers should be wary of icy patches on roadways, so people returning home Sunday after a long weekend away should be careful, Huettl said.

Sunday's temperatures in Bloomington-Normal are expected to range from 29 degrees to 39 degrees. Temperatures may be a bit warmer to the south in Lincoln and Decatur and a bit cooler to the north in Pontiac.

A powerful storm making its way east from California is causing major disruptions during the year’s busiest travel weekend, as forecasters warned that intensifying snow and ice could thwart millions of people across the country hoping to get home after Thanksgiving.

The storm caused the death of at least one person in South Dakota and shut down highways in the western U.S., stranding drivers in California and prompting authorities in Arizona to plead with travelers to wait out the weather before attempting to travel.

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The storm was expected to track east through the weekend — into the Plains on Friday, the Midwest by Saturday and the Northeast on Sunday — pummeling a huge portion of the country with snow, ice or flash flooding.

The National Weather Service said travel could become impossible in some places.

The weather could be particularly disruptive on Sunday, when millions of holiday travelers head home. Airlines for America, the airline industry’s trade group, expects 3.1 million passengers during what could be the busiest day ever recorded for American air travel.

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The airline industry group estimated a record 31.6 million people will travel over a 12-day holiday period. Airlines on Friday said they were so far operating as usual as they monitored the weather.

The weather service issued storm warnings Friday for a swath of the country stretching from Montana to Nebraska to Wisconsin, with heavy snow anticipated in parts of Utah, Colorado, Montana and Wyoming.

Strong winds gusting to 90 mph were possible in mountains and foothills, and could reach 65 mph in the Plains, creating poor visibility.

In Central Illinois, rain and thunderstorms are expected for Saturday "but nothing severe (is anticipated) at this moment," Huettl said.

While about an inch of rain is expected for much of Central Illinois, areas to the southeast, such as Effingham, may experience 1½ to 1¾ inches of rain, he said.

In Bloomington-Normal, temperatures on Saturday are expected to range from 36 to 49 degrees with wind gusts as high as 25 mph.

In Lincoln and Decatur, temperatures on Saturday may reach as high as 52 degrees. Pontiac's high is expected to be 46 degrees.

On Friday, "we had cloudy, gloomy weather again," with temperatures ranging from 33 degrees to 38 degrees in Bloomington-Normal, Huettl said. High temperatures elsewhere were 39 degrees in Pontiac and 41 degrees in Lincoln and Decatur.

Huettl said Friday's weather conditions were typical for this time of year.

There's good news on the horizon.

"We'll return to sunshine on Monday," Huettl said.


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Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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