More Americans are traveling this Thanksgiving weekend than at any time since the pandemic, but many will have to endure storms on Wednesday before reaching their destinations, where a day of family, feasting and football awaits.

The quintessential American holiday is Thursday, with the Wednesday and Sunday of the Thanksgiving weekend traditionally the busiest travel days of the year.

The American Automobile Association projects 55.4 million travelers will head 50 miles (80 km) or more away from home from Wednesday to Sunday, up 2.3% over last year and the third highest since AAA began tracking holiday travel in 2000.

Industry group Airlines for America forecast that U.S. airlines would carry some 29.9 million passengers between Nov. 17 and Nov. 27. That figure would be an all-time high, 9% more than the 27.5 million in the same year-ago period and up 1.7 million passengers from pre-COVID record levels.

Many travelers, however, are likely to encounter severe weather, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasts show thunderstorms threatening much of the southern half of the East Coast, from the southern tip of Florida up to Chesapeake Bay, and rain soaking the Northeast. Freezing rain is possible in parts of New England.

Most of the rain is expected to clear by Thursday, when millions of Americans will gather for the traditional turkey meal and watch American football on TV.

Out west, a snowstorm in the northern and central Rocky Mountains and adjacent High Plans will likely affect Thanksgiving travel from Wednesday night through Friday, the weather service said.

Heavy snow is most likely in Montana and Wyoming with flash freezing potentially affecting road travel in several states, the forecast said.

The official holiday dates to the Civil War, when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November as a day to give thanks and seek healing.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Miral Fahmy)