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Storms Snarl U.S. Air Traffic, Send Plane Sliding Off Runway

Thunderstorms, wind and low clouds tied up air traffic at seven airports in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest and sent a Southwest Airlines Co. plane sliding off a runway in Chicago.

No one was injured when Flight 1919, a Boeing Co. 737-700, ran off the tarmac in heavy rain at Midway Airport at about 1:30 p.m. local time, Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. The plane carried a crew of five and 139 passengers, including five children young enough to be sitting on their parents’ laps. Those children weren’t counted in an earlier statement.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating. In a statement, the NTSB said it would interview the flight crew and review data from on-board voice and data recorders and air traffic controllers’ communications.

At least 383 flights were canceled today, according to FlightAware tracking data.

Severe thunderstorm warnings and watches extended from upstate New York along the Appalachian Mountains to North Carolina. Tornado watches were issued for parts of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Golf ball-sized hail and winds of at least 60 mph were reported as thunderstorms moved across Pennsylvania and New York, according to the National Weather Service. Weather service radar detected weak rotation, a sign a tornado may be developing, in some of the storms.

Tornado Warnings

Tornado warnings, meaning radar has picked up strong rotation, have been issued for just north of Utica, New York, and south of Arkadelphia, Arkansas. Tornadoes have been spotted south of Dallas and in southern Kentucky, according to the weather service.

Tornado watches, meaning the storms may form, were also issued from northern Texas to western Tennessee, according to the weather service. At least 10 people were killed by tornadoes and severe storms in Arkansas yesterday, the Associated Press reported at 5:22 p.m. New York time.

Some flights to New York’s LaGuardia and to Newark and Teterboro, New Jersey, were being held today because of thunderstorms in their paths, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The New York area’s three airports represent the largest aviation market in the U.S., with 103.5 million passengers last year, according to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports.

Flights to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport were experiencing delays of more than an hour, according to the FAA. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport was reporting delays of more than 90 minutes.

Storms in the so-called golden triangle, an area bounded by New York City, Chicago and Atlanta, are most likely to cause air traffic delays and cancellations. About 70 percent of all flight delays are caused by weather, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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