Harsh weather, floods challenge U.S. weekend holiday travelers

AUSTIN, Texas Fri Dec 20, 2013 11:25am EST

AUSTIN, Texas Dec 20 (Reuters) - Holiday travelers heading home for Christmas face some rough going this weekend as a winter storm threatens tornadoes, floods, snow and ice for a wide swath of the United States.

Forecasters are predicting up to a foot (30 cm) of snow for some parts of the Midwest, while other states slightly to the east already have flood watches in effect.

Tornadoes are threatened along the central Gulf Coast on Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service, which is also predicting heavy snow for northern New England

Further south along the East Coast, where temperatures could reach record highs of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16-21 C) over the weekend, travelers would do well to get in most of their road time before a cold front hits the region on Sunday evening, according to Accuweather.com.

Downpours and high winds are then expected to pummel states from Georgia to New York with icy conditions forecast in northern New England, making for poor travel conditions there late Sunday and Monday.

The bad weather is expected to give way to sunny skies and moderate temperatures over most of the United States by Christmas Eve on Tuesday, with some patches of snow and rain but mostly mild conditions, said meteorologist Chris Dolce of The Weather Channel.

"The map really clears out," he said.

On Saturday, rain and thunderstorms begin the onslaught from the Texas panhandle through the Ohio Valley, with damaging winds and flooding likely in some areas, according to the National Weather Service.

Severe weather with potential tornado activity threatens the Southern Plains states of Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, according to The Weather Channel. (Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Scott Malone and Leslie Gevirtz)