Heavy rain threatens to topple records in East

Posted March 29, 2010, at 9:26 a.m.

The National Weather Service posted flood warnings and advisories as heavy rain and winds battered the East Coast from Maine to the Carolinas on Monday.

A low-pressure system that moved into Maine from the west was blamed for the rain that began Monday and is expected to last through the middle of the week. The NWS in Caribou posted a flood watch for much of Maine, noting that the heavy rain combined with mild weather promoting snowmelt could cause problems for streams and rivers Monday and Tuesday.

The NWS indicated March could be the wettest on record in Portland.

The driving rain and gusty wind made life miserable for pedestrians and motorists, and knocked out power to several thousand Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. customers, the bulk of them in Hancock County.

More than 5,500 Central Maine Power Co. customers also were without power, mostly in Penobscot County, during the peak of outages at about 4 p.m. A CMP spokesman said at 8 p.m. that the outages had been reduced to about 50.

Approximately 2,766 Bangor Hydro customers were without power late Monday afternoon in Hancock County, with 189 outages also reported in Penobscot County and about 50 in the Lincoln-Piscataquis County area. A handful of outages were reported earlier in the day in Washington County.

The problem in Hancock County, according to Bangor Hydro spokeswoman Susan Faloon, appeared to stem from one main outage in the Blue Hill area, including surrounding communities such as Sedgwick, Brooklin and Penobscot.

“Mainly it’s one big outage affecting that area,” Faloon said. “Other than that, we’re just seeing scattered outages in other areas.”

She said she had no reports on what had caused the outages other than the wind that was gusting throughout the afternoon.

The outages began at about 2 p.m. Monday. Crews were out during the afternoon and reported a number of trees down on the lines.

Power was expected to be restored by Monday evening, but Faloon warned that continued high winds could cause additional outages.

In Bangor, strong south winds and a high astronomical tide increased the risk of flooding in low-lying areas, especially at the point where the Kenduskeag Stream and Penobscot River merge.

The risk of flooding prompted the city of Bangor to close the east and west sides of Kenduskeag Plaza parking lot and a portion of the ground level of the Pickering Square parking garage. Motorists were directed to move their vehicles out of those areas by 6 p.m., according to an announcement issued to media outlets. The closure was slated to remain in effect through at least Tuesday night.

Those with valid parking permits for Tuesday for the affected parking lots were offered spaces in the Pickering Square parking garage.

No major flooding or wind- or rain-related problems had been reported in the Bangor area by 6 p.m. Monday.

Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency, said late Monday afternoon that although he had heard no reports of flooding in his area, some trees had come down in the gusty winds and blocked roads in Camden and Rockport.

“I’m guessing that there are some trees that got either weakened or partially knocked down with the storms at the end of February,” Sisk said. “It’s going to be one of those wild and woolly nights.”

Rain was expected to fall on Maine for two days before clearing out, adding to already high rainfall totals for March.

The NWS said Monday that as of Sunday, Portland had received 6.71 inches of rain in March. By the time the rain stops falling, it will be closing in on the wettest March on record — 9.97 inches in 1953.

Meteorologist Jim Mansfield said the forecast was calling for 3 to 6 inches of rain. Twice in the past month, parts of southern Maine have received more than 8 inches of rain in single storms.

Elsewhere on the East Coast, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick declared a state of emergency Monday and mobilized as many as 1,000 National Guardsmen to assist in the event of major flooding.

Meteorologists warned of a possible “life-threatening” situation along the Pawtuxet River in Rhode Island, which was expected to reach flood stage later Monday, with heavy flooding by Tuesday afternoon.

The storm hit as the Northeast continued to recover from a storm March 13-15 that dropped as much as much as 10 inches of rain, causing several rivers to rise and flooding basements throughout the region.

The rainiest March on record in Boston was 1953, when 11 inches fell during the month; nearly 10 inches had already fallen before the start of the latest storm.

Road closures were reported Monday in several states, including New Jersey. Up to 2 inches of rain fell overnight on the state, and flood warnings were posted for urban areas and small streams in several counties.

Violent weather from the same system, including at least one tornado, was blamed for injuries to several people and damage to more than 30 homes Sunday night in the Carolinas. Two teenagers in North Carolina died after their car slid off a rain-slick road into a swollen creek.

The rain was tapering off in the Carolinas on Monday, but some flood watches remained.

BDN writers Dawn Gagnon in Bangor, Rich Hewitt in Ellsworth and Abigail Curtis in Belfast and The Associated Press contributed to this report.