Merkel postpones trip to meet Trump due to winter storm

German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel speaks at a news conference during the International Trade Fair in Munich, Germany, March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was already on her way to the airport on Monday to fly to Washington for her first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump when he rang her to postpone the trip due to the approach of a winter storm.

The storm, which is expected to hit the northeastern United States, has prompted airlines to cancel thousands of flights and some mayors to order schools to close on Tuesday.

After her 10-minute conversation with Trump, Merkel continued to Berlin's Tegel airport to personally inform reporters who were due to travel with her to Washington of the change of plan.

"The trip is canceled. That is not a joke," Merkel told the dozen or more surprised reporters already seated on board the government's Airbus A340 plane.

Merkel had been due to meet Trump for more than two hours on Tuesday, followed by a working lunch.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the meeting would be rescheduled for Friday, following the same schedule.

Top executives from three German companies, including engineering group Siemens and carmaker BMW, who had been due to travel with Merkel, would also participate in the postponed trip, officials said.

Merkel is no stranger to weather-related travel changes.

In 2010, she was stranded during a trip to the United States following the eruption of a volcano in Iceland and had to follow a circuitous route home via Portugal and Italy.

In 2012, France's newly elected Socialist President Francois Hollande was en route to meet Merkel, a conservative, but had to return to Paris after his plane was struck by lightning, an incident that helped break the ice in the relationship between the two leaders despite their political differences.

German government officials said the abrupt postponement of Merkel's trip to Washington could act in the same way for Merkel and Trump, providing an unexpected personal kickstart for discussions that will center on complex and difficult issues, including trade issues, Russia, NATO and the Middle East.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Gareth Jones)