Nor’easter knocks out power to thousands in Maine

Posted April 23, 2012, at 1:19 p.m.
Last modified April 23, 2012, at 8:24 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The nor’easter that swept up the Eastern Seaboard knocked out power to thousands of customers in coastal and central Maine on Monday.

The Maine Department of Transportation also closed bridges in Clinton, Kingfield and Washington and was monitoring others in different parts of the state as the heavy rainfall caused flooding and eroded structures.

DOT crews were closely monitoring bridges in Alfred, Augusta, Princeton and Rangeley Plantation. A DOT press release suggested people traveling in those areas check the agency’s website at http://www.511maine.gov/ for information.

Hancock and Washington counties appeared to be bearing the brunt of the storm Monday afternoon, with sustained winds in the Ellsworth area of about 30 mph and gusts approaching 40 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

Coastal waters off Hancock, Washington and parts of Waldo counties also under were gale warnings until 8 p.m. with the weather service forecasting wind speeds of 25 to 35 knots and seas measuring 10 to 14 feet.

As of 8 p.m., only about 80 Bangor Hydro customers were without power. More than 3,000 customers in Stonington, Deer Isle, Sedgwick and surrounding towns lost power for several hours Monday afternoon after winds knocked down power lines.

Bangor Hydro spokesman Bob Potts said a utility crew already in the area because of spotty outages came across the downed wires just as reports began coming in. Service was restored by about 3 p.m.

Earlier Monday, about 1,300 customers in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties lost power but service was restored before noon.

Central Maine Power was reporting about 400 customers without power as of 8 p.m, mostly in Kennebec and Oxford counties.

Much of Maine remained under either a flood watch or a flood advisory on Monday. But other areas of the Northeast were dealing with not only drenching rain but also a foot or more of snow just weeks after many areas were enjoying temperatures in the 80s.

The earliest hits were on higher ground, where snow-laden tree limbs pulled down power lines and commuters navigated slushy roads to work and school. Up to a foot of snow or more was forecast for higher elevations through Tuesday morning.

At the peak Monday, utilities reported about 50,000 customers without power in Pennsylvania and central and western New York.

Gov. Tom Corbett declared a disaster emergency and activated the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency’s state operations center. By early afternoon, electricity had been restored to about 8,000 of the 25,000 customers who had been without power in the state and predictions of heavy snow in Pittsburgh melted away as the temperature remained well above freezing.

It was a similar situation in Buffalo, where an alternating mix of rain and wet snow fell throughout the day but did not accumulate on the roads or trees as expected.

The National Weather Service canceled its winter storm warning for the Buffalo area and counties to the north and east in New York and a winter weather advisory for Allegheny and Washington counties in Pennsylvania.

A warning remained in effect through Tuesday for several counties along the New York-Pennsylvania border, where up to a foot of snow still was possible.

George Wallach, of Buffalo, said he’d gone to Home Depot for lawn fertilizer last week — never thinking he might need rock salt. Western New York saw a run of record-heat in March that included a St. Patrick’s Day weekend in the 70s and an 82-degree reading in Buffalo March 22.

“I should learn not to plan anything till after May,” he said, wet snow falling as he waited with parents outside a Buffalo elementary school to retrieve children after a half day that was scheduled in advance.

Kevin Fitzgerald, a National Weather Service meteorologist in State College, Pa., called the snowstorm “unusual, but not unheard of.”

Farther east, the threat was rain. Much of New Hampshire and western Maine were under a flood watch Monday, with the possibility of some creeks and rivers flooding.

Buffalo-based weather service meteorologist Sean Smith said the slow-moving storm could linger before moving out sometime Tuesday. Sustained winds of 20-30 mph were predicted throughout the Northeast, and gusts of up to 50 mph were expected off Cape Cod.

In Cortland and Yates counties in central New York, authorities said roads were snow-covered and slippery, and they urged drivers not to head out unless absolutely necessary. Dozens of schools in central and western New York were delayed or closed. The snow and slippery roads stretched into the Adirondacks, which got about 2 inches of slushy accumulation.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Wood said six inches of snow fell by daybreak Monday in the higher terrain of Tug Hill, just southeast of Watertown. The snow was expected to change to rain later Monday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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