BANGOR, Maine — Schools, businesses and government offices were shut down Wednesday as heavy snow and gusting winds made for near-blizzard conditions and treacherous driving conditions in much of Maine.
The National Weather Service reported that as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Hancock and Washington counties were hit the hardest, with 13 or more inches recorded in Blue Hill, East Machias and Hancock, and 10 or more inches in Orland, Ellsworth, Greenfield, Veazie and Jonesboro. Cities and towns that reported 8 or more inches of snowfall included Bangor, Clifton, Cherryfield and Harrington.
In some parts of Knox County, the storm had piled up 13 inches of snow by late afternoon. A firefighter from the town of Washington called to say that Route 17 was slick and “pretty much snow-packed,” Knox County Emergency Management Agency Director Ray Sisk said Wednesday.
“The snow should be winding down as we go through the night,” meteorologist Maureen Hastings of the weather service’s Caribou office said, adding that the bulk of the snowfall was expected by midnight, though northernmost Maine could see residual flurries — but no significant accumulations — through Thursday morning.
Hastings said forecasters expected 2 to 4 inches of snow to fall north of the Caribou-Presque Isle area and perhaps some light, scattered snow showers early Thursday morning as the storm trails northward out of Maine.
The blizzard here was a combination of two storms, from the South and the Midwest, that walloped much of the Northeast.
In Bangor, enough snow had fallen to warrant a downtown parking ban, effective from 11 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Thursday, the city’s official website showed.
The combination of high winds and heavy snow forced many air and bus travelers to change their plans.
Dozens of flights have been canceled at the Portland International Jetport and bus service was curtailed in much of Maine.
Despite the domino effect that resulted in the cancellation of flights throughout New England, Bangor International Airport remained open for business, Director Rebecca Hupp said Wednesday.
“The airport is still open and aircraft can still arrive and depart,” Hupp said about midafternoon. She said a US Airways flight was boarding at Bangor International Airport shortly after 2 p.m.
“Fortunately, we have sufficient snow removal equipment and personnel so that when it does snow, we’re able to handle the situation,” Hupp said.
Public safety officials reported that the storm made for tricky traveling conditions for motorists throughout most of the southern two-thirds of Maine. While police and fire personnel received reports of dozens of accidents, no life-threatening injuries were reported.
Due to the near-blizzard conditions, interstate speed limits were reduced. By late afternoon, the speed limit was dropped to 35 mph from Old Town south, a state police dispatcher from the Orono barracks said. The speed limit was back to normal by Wednesday evening.
Among dozens of weather-related accidents was one Wednesday afternoon in Pittsfield in the northbound lane of Interstate 95, where a tractor-trailer driver lost control of his rig about 12:40 p.m. near mile marker 152. The rig tipped onto its side.
Pittsfield Fire Department Capt. Scott Noble said there were no injuries and little disruption to traffic.
“The driver just slid off the road and leaned the truck up against the embankment,” said Noble, who didn’t know the identity of the driver.
An ambulance driver in Machias reported to headquarters by radio that the vehicle slid through a downtown intersection and ended up in a snowbank. Another vehicle rolled over in Machiasport and other accidents were reported throughout Washington County.
Deputies from the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department were working Wednesday afternoon to clear Route 16 on West Road in Abbot after a tractor-trailer went off the road, according to Tim Richardson, a dispatcher for the department.
In Livermore, state Rep. Matt Peterson’s car spun out of control and into a utility pole, snapping the pole and leaving wires dangling; he was taken to a hospital as a precaution, said Androscoggin County Deputy Craig MacMillan.
At about 5:30 p.m., poor driving conditions prompted a crew from a Penobscot Valley Hospital ambulance to call Mattawamkeag firefighters for help reaching a Lee man suffering chest pains.
The nasty weather also shut down many state and federal courts and municipal offices.
Asked if he planned to declare a state of emergency, Gov. Paul LePage scoffed, “It’s Maine! It’s a winter day in Maine.” But eventually he allowed all state workers except those in Aroostook County to leave early, at 3 p.m. “I’ve said business is a priority, but safety is also,” he said.
The University of Maine in Orono canceled all classes at 2 p.m. Wednesday, as weather conditions were expected to grow worse throughout the afternoon. The Hutchinson Center, a distance-education center in Belfast and an extension of UMaine, was closed for the entire day.
Normal operations on the Orono campus were expected to resume at 5 a.m. Thursday.
The U.S. District Court in Portland did not open Wednesday, and the federal court in Bangor closed at noon.
Most state courts in Penobscot, Kennebec, Piscataquis and Aroostook counties remained open Wednesday, according to information on the court system’s website. Newport District Court did close.
High winds and blowing snow not only affected visibility, but also cut power to more than 1,600 Washington County residents and businesses.
Susan Faloon of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. said 4,744 customers were without power as of 9 p.m. Wednesday, with more almost 3,400 in Hancock County, about 1,000 in Penobscot County and 305 in Washington County. The outages were primarily in Eastport, Lubec, Perry and Indian Township.
Faloon said restoration efforts were going slowly due to travel conditions, unplowed roads and broken utility poles, and that some customers might be without power overnight.
Meanwhile, Central Maine Power was dealing with outages of its own, a spokeswoman said. As of about 9 p.m., CMP was showing 881 outages, almost 750 of them in Knox County. The rest of the affected customers were spread among Lincoln and Waldo counties.
The peak number of outages occurred midafternoon, when 2,372 CMP customers were without power.
Anticipating the storm, most of the schools in Piscataquis County were closed or released students early Wednesday.
Greenville Police Chief Jeff Pomerleau said about 4 inches of new snow had fallen in the Moosehead Lake region by about 4 p.m. but there were no accidents or vehicles off the roads.
“People know how to handle the snow north of Monson,” Pomerleau quipped.
Not everyone saw the storm as a downer.
In Portland, people with the day off used social media to organize an old-fashioned snowball fight, which resulted in a flash mob with dozens of young people in Deering Oaks Park who showed up to toss snowballs at one another. Portland police received no calls associated with the event, said Sgt. Joe Ezepek.
Scott Collins and Jim Roberts of Portland hatched the idea for the snowball fight and, thanks to the Internet, “it snowballed into a bigger event,” Collins said.
“We heard there was going to be a big snowstorm. We said, ‘Hey we’re not working tomorrow so we should have a snowball fight.’ It’s sort of like being a kid again,” said Collins, who’s 27. “You can’t really drive around anywhere. So you may as well embrace it and have fun.”
BDN writers Sharon Mack, Rich Hewitt, Judy Harrison, Dawn Gagnon, Diana Bowley, Jamison Cocklin, Christopher Cousin, Abigail Curtis and Nick Sambides and The Associated Press contributed to this report.