BANGOR, Maine — Mainers were urged Tuesday to batten down the hatches in anticipation of the season’s first major storm, set to begin today and wind up on Thursday.
Weather forecasts for the two-day period called for a mixed bag of wintry weather as the storm moves through the state, bringing with it snow, high winds, freezing rain, sleet and poor visibility depending on where one lives.
“It’s the first big one of the year,” Joseph Hewitt, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Caribou, said late Tuesday afternoon. “It has the potential to bring significant snowfall,” as well as high winds — with gusts as high as 40 mph — and the potential for flooding in coastal areas.
“This thing’s actually going to move through pretty quick,” Hewitt said.
The storm expected to slam Maine today already hammered more than a dozen other states Tuesday with dangerous ice, heavy snow and vicious winds that threatened to create 15-foot drifts in parts of the upper Midwest.
As it works its way east, the storm is expected to affect as much as two-thirds of the country by the time it moves off the Maine coast Thursday night, according to NWS weather watchers.
“It’s a monster of a storm,” said Jim Lee, a meteorologist with the NWS in Des Moines, Iowa.
Hewitt said that as of late Tuesday afternoon it appeared the storm would hit southern Maine by this morning, reach the Bangor area by noon and hit northern Maine by midafternoon.
The NWS snowfall projections for today and Thursday called for total accumulations of between a foot and 15 inches in parts of Aroostook, Piscataquis and northern Penobscot counties, from 6 to 10 inches in the southern Penobscot and northern Washington county areas, and up to 4.5 inches along the Down East coast.
The impending storm prompted the postponement or cancellation of events ranging from meetings and classes to holiday parties and concerts, as well as an H1N1 flu shot clinic set for today at the Bangor Civic Center.
The potential for storm-related hazards prompted state emergency and public safety officials to issue weather-related warnings.
“The National Weather Service has advised us to anticipate conditions ranging from potential coastal flooding and high winds, to sleet, freezing rain and moderate snowfall inland to more significant snowfall in the north,” Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Rob McAleer said in a statewide alert issued Tuesday.
“It’s critical to stay tuned to National Weather Service forecasts for your area because the hazards will be different depending on where you are,” McAleer said. “We fully expect driving conditions to be a challenge tomorrow, and high winds and heavy snow may result in power outages.”
MEMA advised Mainers to:
• Monitor weather forecasts for expected local conditions.
• Avoid flooded roadways, respect all barricades and report flooding to local officials.
• Use extreme care driving in icy conditions, staying off the roads if possible.
• Use generators and alternative heat sources safely if the power goes out, and never run a generator in a basement or attached garage as carbon monoxide poisoning may result.
• Keep roofs clear of snow because rain and sleet will add weight to existing snow, and make sure heating system vents are clear to prevent carbon monoxide from backing up in the home.
• Protect outside oil tanks from falling snow and ice to prevent serious fuel spills.
• Check on neighbors, family and friends who may need special assistance to clear snow and ice and to weather the storm.
Also Tuesday, Col. Patrick Fleming, chief of the state police, advised motorists to be prepared for ice and snow and to slow down once the snow starts to accumulate.
“Slowing down is our best advice as drivers need to reacquaint themselves with winter weather challenges behind the wheel,” he said. “Snow and ice reduces a driver’s vision and ability to stop, and drivers adjusting their speed to allow for adequate braking distance is an essential safety factor when driving in Maine during winter storms.”
Fleming said drivers should make sure their vehicles are ready for winter with proper tires and windshield wipers and the heater, defroster, lighting and battery in good working order. He said vehicles should be equipped with a blanket, shovel and flashlight and suggested a fully charged cell phone for winter emergencies.
For more information on winter safety and preparedness, visit www.maineprepares.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.