Weird weather takes toll, targets Down East

Posted Dec. 17, 2010, at 12:39 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:20 a.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County has had one of the most interesting weather months in recent memory, with a varying menu of snow, rain and dramatic thunder and lightning, as well as temperatures that seesawed from 51 degrees to 3 degrees in four days.

First there was a December blizzard that dumped a foot of snow, then a rainstorm that pummeled Washington County with up to 9 inches of rain that caused widespread damage. On Friday it was snow again — created by a rare weather phenomenon that appeared to single out the Down East area while the rest of the state was enjoying a sunny day.

By the time the storm tapered off about 4 p.m. Friday, 5 to 8 inches of snow had fallen on the area, with the highest tally in Harrington.

Meteorologist Matt Doody of the National Weather Service in Caribou explained that Washington County experienced a Norlun trough, an event that happens only once or twice a year.

Doody said the snow, which began in earnest midmorning, could have topped 10 inches. “At this moment [11:15 a.m.] mostly Washington County is affected,” Doody said Friday morning.

Some areas in northern Hancock County and far eastern Penobscot County also had snowfall.

Several car crashes were reported in Ellsworth, Jonesport, Grand Lake Stream and Calais. None resulted in serious injuries.

Most Washington County schools released students before noon, and both Washington County District and Superior courts were closed.

Doody explained that several weather conditions combined to cause an area of instability over Down East Maine.

“There is a low-pressure area well off the coast,” Doody said in the morning. “Draw a straight line down from Nova Scotia and over from New Jersey, and the low pressure is sitting right there in the ocean.”

Another low-pressure system sitting over Maine connected with the system off the coast.

“This makes a very narrow trough of weather,” Doody said. “You could consider this similar to the lake effect in Michigan. The moisture is coming off the ocean.”

Doody predicted that the storm would push out quickly by Friday evening. “When it goes, it will go fast,” he said, and it did.

Late afternoon Friday, Doody said the rest of the weekend should be cool but relatively calm.

“There is a high moving in tonight,” he said, “and Saturday should be sunny and cool.”

A snow event originally predicted for Sunday afternoon looks like it may not arrive until Monday. “That system is not as strong as originally thought and is moving farther out to sea,” Doody said. Monday will be cool enough for snow, Doody said, but he could not predict any amounts.