Light but steady snowfall in northern Maine and rain along the Down East coast caused dozens of mostly minor accidents Sunday as motorists coped with freezing roads for the first time since last spring, officials said.
More than 50 vehicles slid off Interstate 95 or collided during the evening rush from Newport to Houlton thanks to a sudden freeze that forced state police to close the highway in Newport from mile marker 163 to marker 165, a state police dispatcher in Orono said.
In Township 2, Range 9, a Biddeford man lost control while driving south on Interstate 95 and crashed into the median, according to a report by WABI.
Norman Ayotte, 55, was killed in the crash, state police told the TV affiliate. They said Ayotte was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the vehicle. A passenger in the vehicle suffered minor injuries and was transported to Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln.
Police told WABI that Ayotte was driving too fast for the snowy conditions.
Most of the 50 accidents occurred in Newport. The highway was shut down for about two hours, reopening at about 7:15 p.m., the dispatcher said. The closure backed up traffic for several miles.
The shutdown was the culmination of a storm that began early Sunday. A slow-moving band of snow that formed in northwest Aroostook County and went south starting shortly after midnight, and scattered rain moving west from the coast hours later at around 9 a.m., reacquainted Mainers with these wintry weather hazards, said forecaster Maureen Hastings of the National Weather Service in Caribou.
“For Down East Maine, this is their first somewhat significant snowfall,” Hastings said Sunday, “and through the warm season everybody kinds of forgets how to travel. It usually takes a storm or two before they kind of remember how to drive in the snow again.”
By 3 p.m., the snowfall had state police and regional dispatchers in Augusta, Bangor and Orono sending police, firefighters and ambulances to an estimated two dozen accidents along the I-95 corridor and on several state roads, officials said.
Several vehicle rollovers, spinouts and collisions were reported. The exact location, extent of damage or injuries caused by the mishaps was impossible to immediately determine.
“We are busy,” a state police dispatcher in Augusta said. “We have had tons of accidents.”
State police dispatchers in Houlton and Gray, meanwhile, said they had no significant accidents or weather-related problems to report as of 4 p.m.
Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said no significant snowfall had occurred Sunday in southern Maine, thanks largely to above-freezing temperatures. Nor was any accumulation expected overnight into Monday afternoon.
The National Weather Service advised on Friday that the storm would hit central and eastern Maine starting late Saturday night. Hastings predicted that the most snow accumulation, four to six inches, would occur overnight Sunday in Hancock and Washington counties.
Another weak low-pressure weather system will develop overnight Sunday in the Gulf of Maine that will move east slowly into Monday before hitting New Brunswick by Monday night, Hastings said.
“That will allow some heavier and steadier precipitation to develop over Down East Maine and the snow could be heavy at times,” Hastings said.
“We will see snow everywhere tonight and we expect a mix of snow and rain by tomorrow afternoon.”