BANGOR, Maine — A fresh blanket of Christmas Day snow spelled trouble Tuesday morning for motorists in southern and western Maine.
Though most of the rest of the state was seeing mostly cloudy weather as of about noon, several southern Maine communities — including Portland, Wiscasset and Fryeburg — were experiencing light snow, according to the National Weather Service office in Gray.
Shortly before noon, the Maine Turnpike Authority reported that Maine State Police and the Maine Department of Transportation were dealing with multiple crashes on Interstate 295’s northbound and southbound lanes in the Freeport and Brunswick areas. Motorists were encouraged to seek alternate routes until the road can be cleared.
The authority also reported that the speed limit was lowered to 45 mph from mile 2 in Kittery to mile 67 at the New Gloucester toll booth. Driving conditions were hazardous between Falmouth and Gray.
Maine State Police Sgt. Robert Burke said a portion of Interstate 95 southbound in Brunswick was shut down for 37 minutes at about 11 a.m.
“Just the sheer numbers [of car accidents] is what overwhelmed us. We ran low on manpower,” said Burke. “To assist us, we called in some extra troopers. It was good that they could come in on Christmas.”
He added that many local police departments were asked to assist as well.
Burke said many motorists appeared unprepared for the first significant snowfall for the area.
“As always with these first storms, there are people driving too fast for these conditions,” said Burke.
To add to the problem, a Department of Transportation plow truck rear-ended another vehicle, he said.
“At that point we had to shut down the Interstate,” said Burke.
Shortly after 1 p.m., the turnpike authority advised motorists using the southbound lanes between Exit 80 in Lewiston and Exit 75 in Auburn of a motor vehicle crash. The accident was not expected to result in delays, however.
There were several accidents in Portland on Tuesday morning, but nothing too serious, said Portland police Sgt. Ben Noyes.
“There were mostly vehicles off the roads or sliding into each other,” said Noyes. “No one was seriously injured.”
He said about an inch of wet snow blanketed the city.
“I think it was right near the freezing point,” said Noyes. “It’s that heavy wet snow. Some people weren’t prepared for it.”
Portland police assisted Maine State Police with accidents as well, he said.
A 15-year veteran of the Maine State Police told Burke that “it’s the worst he’s seen as far as the number of crashes,” Burke said.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, a winter storm watch was in effect for most of the state from Wednesday evening through Friday morning as a storm front makes its way northward, according to weather forecasters in Gray and Caribou. Coastal areas also were under a gale wind warning.
The storm is expected to dump 6 or more inches of snow in inland locations, the weather service said. Forecasters in the weather service’s Caribou office predicted that northern and central eastern Maine could see as much as 10-16 inches.
The snow could change to rain or mixed precipitation along the coast.