Snow mounts in Maine

Posted Jan. 21, 2011, at 12:49 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 7:06 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — In what seems to be a weekly event, Maine was hit by yet another winter storm Friday — this one expected to dump more than 20 inches of snow in parts of Maine before it winds down late Friday night.

The National Weather Service’s offices in Caribou and Gray issued winter storm warnings for most of the state and a gale warning for the Gulf of Maine.

The warnings were in effect through 7 p.m. in southwestern and midcoast Maine, and until 10 p.m. for the interior and northeast reaches.

By 3 p.m., the weather service was projecting that most parts of Hancock County could receive more than 20 inches by Saturday morning.

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The combination of high snowfall accumulations and wind gusts of up to 30 mph made for poor visibility and drifting, which led schools and government operations to close early or not open at all. Bus lines, including Cyr Bus Lines and the BAT Community, shut down and Bangor International Airport’s website was showing several flight cancellations and delays, though the airport was open for business as of early evening.

Conditions were awful enough to prompt Gov. Paul LePage to order that state government offices across Maine close at 3 p.m.

As of 2 p.m., Hancock and Washington counties had seen the highest snowfall amounts, according to unofficial observation reports posted by the weather service. Blue Hill was in the lead, with 9 inches.

Piscataquis and Penobscot counties weren’t far behind, with 6 inches in Monson and at least 5 inches in Parkman, Old Town, Carmel and Lee.

By 7 p.m., Medway had 18.5 inches and Deer Isle had 13 inches.

At 4:30 p.m., Bangor International Airport had 11.5 inches; Haynesville, 10 inches; Surry, 11.4 inches; Whiting, 11 inches; and Harrington, 10 inches.

Because of the blowing and drifting snow, the speed limit on Interstate 95 was reduced to 45 mph with the exception of Bangor, where the speed limit was dropped to 40.

Forecasters had predicted that Aroostook County would get less snow than other parts of the state, but by 8 p.m. Houlton had received 18 inches, which was 2 inches less than Cary Plantation’s 20 inches — the highest total reported to the Caribou office for the day. Not far behind was West Seboeis, which had 16 inches.

The NWS also reported gale force winds in Robbinston, in Washington County, where wind speeds hit 45 mph.

Officials at the Maine Winter Sports Center said Friday that they planned to continue to use snow guns and to truck in snow in preparation for the World Cup Biathlon. The event will be held Feb. 4-6 in Presque Isle and Feb. 10-13 in Fort Kent.

The Maine Turnpike Authority ordered drivers to slow down, while the weather service in Caribou warned motorists that the snowfall, combined with up to 25 mph winds, would reduce visibility and result in slippery roads and difficult travel conditions.

“If traveling, slow down and plan extra time to reach your destination,” the warning states. “Be sure your vehicle has a full tank of gas. If you get stranded, stay with your vehicle.”

In Washington County, a light snow at dawn rapidly increased during the morning, blowing sideways by noon and turning roads dangerous.

“It’s dicey out there,” Washington County Regional Communications Center dispatcher Richard Moore said at about noon. Although the communications center had only received a couple of calls for help — a few cars slipped off roads without motorists suffering any injuries — Moore expected that to change when the worst of the storm arrived during the evening commute.

Eugene White of Machiasport, who plows parking lots for Hanscom Construction of Machias, was out in the thick of it late Friday afternoon.

“It’s dangerous out there,” he said. “If I didn’t have to do this, I would be at home.”

White said there is a treacherous layer of ice under the snow — which piled up to a depth of 8 inches by 4 p.m. — and the blowing snow had turned to hail. “I think I’m going to be out most of the night,” he added.

White said the combination of several snowstorms Down East has left plow operators with little room for the plowed snow. “It’s really starting to build up in the parking lots,” he said.

In Hancock County, snow started light Friday morning but became heavy as midday approached and stayed that way.

In Waldo and Knox counties, fewer-than-normal drivers mostly were managing to stay on the slippery, snow-covered roads on Friday morning, according to county dispatchers.

The drivers who slid off the roads haven’t reported injuries, dispatchers said.

Among the closures caused by the fast-moving storm was Waldo County Superior Court, which means that the criminal trial of accused school hostage-taker Randall Hofland has been interrupted for a day.

As of mid-afternoon, no serious accidents had been reported, according to area police dispatchers.

“We’re just dealing with cars off the road — here, there and everywhere,” a state police dispatcher from the Orono barracks said.

Even tractor-trailers were having a rough go of it, including a rig that got hung up on the offramp leading to Dysart’s Truck Stop & Restaurant in Hermon that was causing vehicles behind it to back up.

It was the same at the Penobscot Regional Communications Center and the Bangor Police Department, which also saw about half a dozen snow-related fender-benders.

The blustery weather conditions also caused power outages, mostly to coastal customers in Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.’s service area, its online outage system showed. In the dark Friday night were customers in Addison and South Addison, Jonesport, Lubec, Mount Desert, Pembroke, Sedgwick and Steuben.

Central Maine Power was not hit with significant outages, according to its website.

Temperatures in Maine will be in the mid- to upper teens south, lower to mid-20s north and lower 30s along the coast on Friday, but the snow will be followed by a deep freeze. Over the weekend, parts of Maine could see temperatures near 25 degrees below zero.

Bangor Daily News writers Dawn Gagnon, Sharon Kiley Mack, Abigail Curtis, Bill Trotter, Rich Hewitt, Jen Lynds and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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