Rain, winds lash Northeast

Posted Dec. 03, 2009, at 11:17 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Big winds, high water and record temperatures combined Thursday to give eastern Maine residents a smorgasbord of late fall weather that seemed more like late spring.

In Bangor the temperature set a new record high of 63 degrees, meteorologist Tony Mignon of the National Weather Service office in Caribou confirmed.

Thursday’s balmy weather broke the previous record of 59 degrees set on Dec. 3, 1934, Mignon said.

The sunny afternoon breaks came after deluges of rain in the morning that combined with a full-moon high tide to cause flooding in low-lying coastal regions and basements in downtown Bangor.

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Utility officials reported sporadic power outages from Maine to New Jersey after wind knocked down trees and power lines early Thursday. Winds reached up to 49 mph in Brunswick, while the Isle of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire recorded a 61 mph gust. In New Jersey, wind speeds topped out at 45 mph.

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But the rain and wind that battered the Northeast early Thursday gave way to sunny skies and unseasonably high temperatures by midmorning.

In Boston, the temperature hit 69 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1932. In Portland, the temperature climbed to 68 degrees — crushing the old high of 55 for the date. Providence, R.I., had a record high of 66, and Concord, N.H., set a record at 65.

“It’s not right. It’s December. It’s supposed to be snowing,” said Jennifer Sporzynski, who sat on a park bench Thursday in Portland’s Old Port. “I like warm weather — but not in December.”

Blustery winds combined with rain to knock out power to more than 1,000 customers in Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.’s service areas in Hancock and Penobscot counties, spokeswoman Susan Faloon said Thursday.

Electrical service was restored to most of the affected customers by midafternoon, she said

According to Faloon, the Hancock County communities of Brooklin and Deer Isle were among the hardest hit. She said wind and flood warnings issued for the coastal section of that county could cause additional outages throughout the day.

Central Maine Power, the state’s largest electric utility, reported 6,700 customers in the dark at the storm’s peak.

The rising tide and heavy runoff from morning rains flooded downtown parking lots and several basements in Bangor.

Elizabeth Sutherland rolled up the legs of her pants and took off her shoes Thursday morning in order to move her car that was caught in a flooded parking lot after heavy rains and the high tide combined to drown the center of the city.

“I had to pull my pant legs up to my knees,” she said while standing beside the flooded Kenduskeag Stream, which soaked the downtown area when high tide was marked at 10:35 a.m.

Water flooded into the basements of several businesses, including the Grasshopper Shop, the Whig & Courier Pub, the Charles Inn and Giacomo’s coffee shop, Assistant Fire Chief Rick Cheverie said just before 11 a.m. from the scene.

“There are some people parked in the water that is knee-deep,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure those cars are moved.”

At the same time, firefighters brought in portable pumps to remove water from flooded businesses and helped with moving supplies caught in the surge.

Brett Settle, owner of Giacomo’s, watched as firefighters prepared to pump out his basement, which is used for storage and has two freezers that sit on the ground.

“They just took this stuff out of Rick [Schweikert]’s over at the Grasshopper Shop,” he said, as firefighters rolled a red hose and carried a pump down into his basement.

“There is nowhere for the water to go,” Settle said.

As the pump began to work, Settle had yet to lose any supplies, which were sitting on plastic crates or shelves, but he had to unplug the two freezers that were sitting in water.

“It all happened in 15 minutes,” he said. His losses “could be up to $3,000,” Settle said, if the food in his freezers thawed.

Once the water is gone, Settle said, he would lift the freezers, if they still work, off the floor to prevent any future problems. With another high tide expected at 10 p.m. Thursday, he said he’s taking no chances.

Cheverie said Thursday’s second high tide was a concern.

“We’re contacting the National Weather Service to find out if we need to barricade” the area, he said.

Flooding in downtown is a fairly uncommon occurrence, Cheverie said, adding the last time it happened it was in the springtime and it was caused by an ice jam.

“It’s been a few years since we’ve been down here” to assist with flooding issues, he said.

Fire officials worried that the high waters might cause problems at the new Penobscot Judicial Center, but the water subsided before reaching the building or any equipment, Cheverie said.

“It actually stayed in the parking lot,” he said. “It’s a low-lying area. We were a little concerned” that it might short out the parking gates, but “it came up right to the top of the curbing but not over it.”

As the water reached its high point, several residents could be seen taking photos, including Bangor resident Beth Boutot, who brought her children Caleb, 6, and Rebecca, 9, downtown to see the flooding.

“I went home to get my camera,” she said.

While his mother took a photo, Caleb Boutot pointed down at the fast-moving Kenduskeag Stream and said, “It would be hard to swim down there. I hope it doesn’t go up to our house.”

“It won’t,” his mom reassured him with a smile.

Along with folks moving their cars, people moving stuff out of their basements, and those taking photos, a couple of Brewer residents were just having fun.

Gavin Bickford, 3, and his little brother Shiloh, 2, put on their brightly colored rubber rain boots and jackets and headed to the water with their mom, Stephanie Bickford.

“This is the best kind of day to jump in puddles,” she said, standing on the Bangor waterfront by the Sea Dog restaurant, while her little ones did what little boys do.

In Hancock County, there were few incidents of note from the weather. Besides rocks washing into the road at Seawall in Acadia National Park, which is not unusual when strong winds blow ashore at high tide, some small trees blew over. Thunder Hole was closed as a precautionary measure, according to a dispatcher with the park.

There was some minor flooding on Shore Road in Southwest Harbor, but not enough to close the road down, according to a local emergency response dispatcher. In Bar Harbor and Mount Desert, there were no weather-related incidents to report.

Minor flooding was reported along the Union River. In Ellsworth, riverside picnic tables next to Rooster Brother floated closer to the home-kitchen business as the morning deluge raised water levels over a nearby embankment. The tables were left standing in a parking lot of the business after the water receded before 11 a.m.

Jim Brown from the National Weather Service says the cool-down will be nearly as swift as the arrival of the record warmth. Seasonably cooler weather is expected by the weekend in the Northeast.

BDN writers Bill Trotter and Dawn Gagnon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JOHN CLARKE RUSS

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