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Christmas Eve arrives more windy and warm than white

Still, rain and high winds forced cancellations of hundreds of flights, with Chicago's O'Hare hit hard.

NEW YORK - Christmas Eve shaped up to be windy, wet, and warm instead of white across much of the country, creating headaches for travelers in the Great Lakes, the Northeast, and a storm-battered swath of the South.

While parts of the South cleaned up from severe storms that killed at least four people, a system that forecasters had feared could bring several inches of snow to the Midwest, including the air travel hub of Chicago, mostly petered out or turned out to be rain.

Still, by Wednesday afternoon, more than 300 flights had been canceled in the nation, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware. Chicago's O'Hare International Airport was hardest hit, accounting for about 100 of the cancellations.

Parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota reported snow accumulations from just a dusting to up to four inches.

Holiday travelers in Ohio, Michigan, and New York faced the prospect of windy weather. A high wind warning was issued from Wednesday evening to Thursday morning for much of northern Ohio.

Meteorologists warned that gusts of 65 m.p.h. in western New York could blow away holiday decorations. Heavy rain was predicted to accompany the wind across New England, where much of the region was put under a flood watch through Thursday night.

In Michigan, utility companies braced for extremely strong winds a year after a storm put thousands of people in the dark at Christmas.

Crews were on standby Wednesday in anticipation of gusts of 45 m.p.h. or higher in the Detroit area.

Power companies struggled to restore electricity to thousands of people in Mississippi after severe weather killed at least four people, injured about 50, and damaged or destroyed many homes and businesses.

In south Georgia, more than 50 counties were under a tornado watch as thunderstorms continued in many parts of the state.

Along the East Coast, a light but steady rain fell amid unseasonable warmth.

In northern New Jersey, forecasters warned thunderstorms could boom as temperatures head toward 60. A coastal flood advisory was in effect, and fog was predicted in the northern part of the state.

Sarah Stothers of Washington, D.C., said as she stopped at a travel plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike that rain and fog made the trip tough, but it wasn't as bad as she had expected based on the weather forecast.

"I thought it would be a lot worse," she said. "I thought there would be a lot more people on the road."

Still, some parts of the country were welcoming bona fide snow in time for Christmas.

Five to 10 inches was forecast in mountain passes in Nevada's Sierras and up to 10 inches was predicted for parts of Wyoming. And mountainous areas of Washington expected 3 to 5 inches to fall Wednesday.