April 23, 2018
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Roads deserted, offices closed as weekly storm hits Maine

By BDN staff and wire reports, Special to the BDN

BANGOR, Maine — Punxsutawney Phil may have popped up and predicted an early spring Wednesday in Pennsylvania, but his groundhog relatives in Maine were getting buried under an additional 16 inches of snow.

State offices closed at noon and legislative hearings scheduled at the State House for the day were scrapped.

Classes, church services, meetings and other activities were canceled throughout much of the state.

In an unusual move, the Bangor Mall closed at 2 p.m., according to a memo General Manager James Gerety sent to store managers. Banks, including Katahdin Trust in Bangor, also closed early.

The snow began to fall lightly Tuesday night, but by 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service office in Caribou had received reports of as much as 14 inches in Hancock and 13 or more inches on Cranberry Isles and Deer Isle, where the highest accumulations were recorded as of that time.

Receiving almost as much were the Washington County towns of Cherryfield and Whiting, which had 11 and 10½ inches respectively, and Princeton, which had 9½ inches.

By early evening, the storm had dumped 9 inches in Levant and 8.3 in Kenduskeag in Penobscot County, and more than 8 inches in Houlton, Oakfield and Island Falls in Aroostook County.

In Washington and Hancock counties, courts, schools and all county offices were closed Wednesday morning, and many area businesses either never opened their doors or were closing early.

“We haven’t even had a single accident. People are staying home,” Washington County Regional Communications Center dispatcher Karen Redman said at midmorning. “An ambulance reported to us that some of the [tractor-trailer] trucks were having a hard time on the hills on Route 9 but that is normal.”

Police in Hancock and northern Penobscot County also reported few accidents and minimal traffic.

“January has been extreme. We don’t budget for extreme,” Calais City Manager Diane Barnes said Wednesday. She said overtime and extra materials have been budget-busters, but added, “Everybody up here is in the same boat.” She said her public works drivers have a 3-hour route. “They just get done and they have to start over again,” she said. “The storms are coming so fast that we can’t remove the piled-up snow, and the mountains of snow are getting really dangerous.”

The one bright light is that because Washington County now has far more snow than Aroostook County, snowmobilers have been arriving by the dozens, she said. “This is very good for us and is having a positive impact on the local economy,” she said.

Machias Town Manager Chris Loughlin said his crews were working hard to keep up with the storm and will likely be out until midnight. “Our biggest problem now is where to put the snow,” he said. Intersections are piled high and contractors who plow private parking lots are just about at their limit, he said. Loughlin said pe-destrians are nearly taking their lives in their hands walking in roadways. “We have just enough time to do the roads and no time for sidewalks,” he said.

“We even had a volunteer shovel the Bad Little Falls Park, which provides a shortcut between Route 1 and Elm Street.”

The snow brought air travel to a screeching halt on Wednesday. All incoming and outbound flights were canceled at Bangor International Airport, airport officials said. Flights were not expected to resume until Thursday morning.

Airlines across the country canceled more than 6,000 flights on Wednesday.

Over two days the airlines have canceled more than 13,000 flights, according to flight-tracking service FlightAware.com. The cancellations were concentrated at Chicago’s O’Hare International, one of the nation’s most important air hubs.

In anticipation of heavy snowfall and strong winds that could cause power outages for customers Wednesday and Thursday, Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. held storm-planning meetings, put field crews on alert and ensured its customer service center would be staffed accordingly as the storm progressed.

“Our crews will likely be dealing with slick road conditions and poor visibility,” said Jen Brooker, manager of resource planning. “We ask customers to stay clear of our crews and trucks to avoid unnecessary safety risks.”

In Aroostook County, organizers of the upcoming World Cup biathlon were ecstatic about the falling snow, which arrived just in time for the competition, scheduled for Feb. 4-6. Light snow began falling in Houlton around 10:30 a.m. Most schools in the area let out students by noon and began canceling after-school events a short time later.

It has been a light winter in terms of snow accumulation in The County. According to the National Weather Service in Caribou, there is roughly 18½ inches of snow on the ground in Littleton, and a little more than 14 inches in neighboring Monticello. Still, snowmobile riders were zipping into convenience stores in Houlton on Wednesday afternoon.

Jason Struyvestant of Boston, Mass., arrived two days ago for his annual two-week snowmobiling vacation in Aroostook County. He said that he has been coming to Houlton to take rides into the St. John Valley for “close to a decade.” He was with three other riders fueling up at a local convenience store.

“The trails aren’t as good as they have been in past years just because of the level of snow, but riding today has been great,” he said. “I hope it snows a foot.”

Police in Presque Isle reported one accident and numerous cars off the road by 4 p.m. Wednesday. Police said that no one was injured as a result of the mishaps.

Knee-deep snow didn’t deter a group of former and current Bangor High School students from a game of Ultimate Frisbee at Broadway Park in Bangor.

Wednesday’s game began with four players who later were joined by two more, Tristan Taber, 24, said during a post-game gathering at the home of Rebecca Pelletier, who lives nearby and also braved the weather to play.

Taber and the others who showed up to toss a flying disc around the park Wednesday afternoon are part of a larger group of hard-core Ultimate Frisbee players who play year-round, even in snowstorms.

“We do this pretty often,” said Taber, who holds a degree in landscape architecture from Iowa State University.

Members of the informal group, which varies in number based on who is around, call themselves the “Eutyls,” which Tabor said is a takeoff on “util,” a term in economics meaning a measure of satisfaction.

By midday, Chicago had received 20.2 inches of snow — the city’s third-largest amount on record. A foot or more was dumped on parts of Missouri, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and upstate New York.

New York City expected to get up to three-quarters of an inch of ice before the mix of sleet and freezing rain warms up to rain.

The storm was, if not unprecedented, extraordinarily rare, National Weather Service meteorologist Thomas Spriggs said.

“A storm that produces a swath of 20-inch snow is really something we’d see once every 50 years — maybe,” Spriggs said.

The system was blamed for at least 10 deaths, including a homeless man who burned to death on Long Island as he tried to light cans of cooking fuel and a woman in Oklahoma City who was killed while being pulled behind a truck on a sled that hit a guard rail.

Forecasters warned that accumulating ice would knock down some tree limbs and power lines across the storm’s more than 2,000-mile path. Multiple roof and structure collapses were reported in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, but no injuries were reported.

Ice also stalled local and regional transit with Amtrak suspending service from New York City to Philadelphia because of power problems.

BDN writers Jen Lynds, Sharon Kiley Mack, Dawn Gagnon, Nick Sambides Jr., Heather Steeves and Rich Hewitt and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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