Snow, wind wallop Maine; part of Route 9 closed

Posted Dec. 06, 2010, at 5:27 a.m.

Heavy snow fell across the northern half of Maine in the state’s first major snowstorm of the season Monday.

The storm, which began overnight, caused treacherous travel conditions, knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses, and closed scores of government offices, business and schools, including some University of Maine System and Maine Community College System campuses.

By late afternoon, nearly a foot of snow had fallen in many places, with 16 inches reported in the Penobscot County town of Lakeville.

The National Weather Service said some spots could see as much as 20 inches by the time the snow stopped in the overnight hours.

Like many other Mainers, Washington County residents woke early Monday to about a foot of heavy, wet snow that caused power outages, mass school closings and numerous accidents.

Route 9, the busy east-west highway from Calais to Bangor, was shut down for several hours after a number of tractor-trailers slid off or blocked the road, but no injuries were reported.

State police dispatchers said trucks were having difficulty getting up hills in Wesley at Day Hill, Schoppee Hill near Beddington, and before and after The Whalesback.

One of the accidents involved a tractor-trailer that jackknifed Monday morning while passing a Maine Department of Transportation plow truck near Schoppee Hill in Beddington.

“The back of the trailer spun around and blocked a portion of the roadway,” said Randy Gray, DOT region superintendent for the Bangor area. “He had 96 crates of lobster heading to Canada.” Shortly afterward, “a tour bus tried to get up behind him and slid into the guardrail and blocked the whole roadway,” he said.

The state plow truck, which had gone up over the hill, then could not get back, Gray said.

Work to clear the road slowed down even more when a DOT truck that was sent from the Bangor area to assist the first plow truck got stuck in the mud while trying to do a three-point turn, DOT spokesman Mark Latti said.

Route 9 east of Route 193 was closed to traffic until about noon.

The weight of the snow also bent evergreens to the ground, snapped limbs and dropped utility wires into roadways.

Power was interrupted to 2,002 Washington County homes, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. spokeswoman Susan Faloon reported. As of 11 a.m., Cutler, East Machias, Lubec, Pembroke, Edmunds, Jacksonville, Northfield and Whiting were hardest hit.

Though the number of outages dropped to 830 by midafternoon and down to 755 two hours later, Faloon said customers in Eastport, Edmunds, Lubec, Marion, Pembroke, Trescott, East Machias, Cutler Township 14 and Perry could be without power overnight.

As of 9 p.m. the Down East customers were still without power. The total number of outages stood at 621.

The wintry road conditions also were the cause of a head-on crash in Dixmont that sent an Augusta man to the hospital, Maine State Police Trooper Brenda Coolen said Monday night. The accident forced police to detour traffic through the Old Bangor Road for about an hour as a safety precaution, she said.

The accident happened about 4:20 p.m. on Route 9, also known as Western Avenue, in a valley between Routes 143 and 7, she said.

Marsha Dawson, 61, of Richmond was traveling east when she started going down one of the two steep hills leading into the valley, skidded and lost control of the Toyota sedan she was driving. The sedan crossed the centerline and traveled into the path of a westbound station wagon driven by Richard Hyatt, 66, who was coming down a steep hill on the opposite side, Coolen said.

Hyatt was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for treatment of back and neck pain, she said. Dawson suffered a fat lip when her air bag deployed but declined a visit to the hospital.

Coolen credited that facts that both motorists were wearing seat belts and that the air bags in their respective vehicles deployed with preventing what would have been worse injuries.

“That made all the difference,” she said, adding that had that not been the case, “both of them would have been ejected. Those hills are very steep.”

The wintry weather also prompted some delivery service companies to pull their trucks off the road. A Pepsi distributor told a Machias restaurateur that it took his driver three hours to get from Brewer to Jonesboro before he was called back to his base.

Much of Aroostook County escaped the brunt of the storm, though many schools and businesses were shut down or delayed opening.

A late-fall storm with more than a foot of snow isn’t unusual in northern Maine, said Joe Hewitt, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Caribou.

“Up here, by late November winter’s arrived,” Hewitt said.

Fellow meteorologist Tim Duda said Monday afternoon that while some parts of southern Aroostook had picked up 9 inches of snow by 3 p.m., rain fell in many points north of Mars Hill, including Presque Isle, Caribou and parts of the St. John Valley.

Several inches of snow had fallen in coastal Hancock County by noontime when a light snow continued to fall. The storm closed most of the schools in the county.

Ellsworth police dealt with no serious problems because of the snow, but dispatchers with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department reported numerous cases of cars off the road and a number of minor accidents around the county.

Police in Greater Bangor also received dozens of accident reports, most of them involving vehicles sliding off roadways, officials said.

“Everything we’ve taken has been minor stuff,” a Penobscot Regional Communications Center dispatcher said.

At one point a snowplow that was backing up in a parking lot bumped into a pedestrian but that person was not injured and left without talking to police, the dispatcher said.

Bangor police saw relatively few accidents, Lt. Steve Hunt said.

“We have had three accidents, but no PI,” or personal injury, he said at 11:15 a.m.

The season’s first major accumulation of snow also prompted Bangor to impose a downtown parking ban from 11 p.m. Monday through 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Southern Maine was expected to get little if any snow.

The snowstorm was welcomed by outdoors enthusiasts, particularly after last winter’s warm temperatures and relatively light snowfall.

Snowmobile clubs are heartened that recent storms coming into Maine have come from the east, which can be big snowmakers in the winter, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. About 100,000 people ride snowmobiles each year in Maine, which has 14,500 miles of trails.

“This storm can be only good news,” Meyers said. “It’s got everybody jazzed up.”

Bangor Daily News reporters Sharon Kiley Mack, Jen Lynds, Rich Hewitt, Nok-Noi Ricker and Dawn Gagnon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.