High tides, cold air make for dangerous flood and freeze combo

An SUV dashes through a flooded section of State Street in Portland Monday as workmen attempt to clear the storm drains.
An SUV dashes through a flooded section of State Street in Portland Monday as workmen attempt to clear the storm drains. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 06, 2014, at 12:19 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 07, 2014, at 7:56 a.m.
Lance Hudson scoops two buckets full of sand from the public pile in Deering Oaks Park Monday for his icy sidewalk, which only promises to get slicker as the temperature drops overnight.
Lance Hudson scoops two buckets full of sand from the public pile in Deering Oaks Park Monday for his icy sidewalk, which only promises to get slicker as the temperature drops overnight. Buy Photo
A sign over the public sand pile in Portland's Deering Oaks Park states the rules.
A sign over the public sand pile in Portland's Deering Oaks Park states the rules. Buy Photo
A woman makes her way carefully over an icy path in Portland's Deering Oaks Park Monday as the warm temperature and rain create fog.
A woman makes her way carefully over an icy path in Portland's Deering Oaks Park Monday as the warm temperature and rain create fog. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Warm daytime air and rain flooded low-lying streets on Monday just before freezing temperatures were forecast to move in. High tides threatened to compound the problem in southern Maine and Bangor.

Gov. Paul LePage urged motorists to stay off the state’s roads.

“I urge all Maine travelers to reduce their travel to the absolute minimum amount necessary [Monday and early Tuesday],” he said in an email alert late Monday. “This is both for your safety and the safety of highway crews working to clear the roads. If you do need to travel, consider all roads ice-covered unless you have knowledge to the contrary.”

For at least the sixth straight day, high tides in Portland Harbor remained over 10 feet Monday — at 10.3 feet, down from a peak of 11.8 feet Friday morning — according to USHarbors.com. That will push water back up through storm drains in low-lying areas such as in Portland’s Bayside neighborhood, creating deep pools of water along roads just in time for it to freeze solid.

“I think we’ve got some street flooding around, but mostly that’s due to poor drainage because of drains being clogged with ice and debris,” Michael Cempa, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Gray office, said Monday morning. “The cold front comes through late this afternoon and then temperatures will start to drop. … Any standing water certainly is going to freeze up.”

Cempa said temperatures of 50 degrees Monday were reported all the way from the York County town of Sanford along the coast to Wiscasset in Lincoln County. Those figures fell short of the record high for the day, which was 60 degrees in 1993.

The high Monday temperatures came just two days after lows of minus 14 on Saturday in Portland, just four degrees warmer than the 1981 historical record cold for that day, minus 18 degrees.

“It was negative-12 at the Jetport on Saturday morning and it’s 48 [degrees] today,” said Lance Hudson, a Portland resident who was filling two five-gallon buckets from a city sand pile near Deering Oaks Park on Monday. “A couple of years ago, I had a friend break his wrist from a fall on the ice, and not too long after, I stepped out onto my walkway, and I didn’t even have time to catch my breath. I was just on my back.”

Cempa said the temperature roller coaster is going to dip again soon enough to cause problems any place where surfaces are wet and water pools because of the brief spell of warm weather Monday.

Cempa added that the morning rains likely washed away the sand and salt that road crews had previously spread Sunday, as well as forcing workers to start over again completely when the ice returned late Monday.

“It’s a real challenge trying to keep up with a range of different temperatures,” said Eric LaBelle, deputy director of Portland’s Public Services Department, noting his crews have been working around the clock since the middle of last week.

“The roads are slippery — that’s why we’re out there treating the streets — and we also have to deal with traffic, too,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed by Dale Doughty, director of maintenance and operations for the Maine Department of Transportation, who said in a statement Monday his crews are “racing against the clock” to prepare for the expected freezing of the roads.

“Maine DOT crews are out in full force today dealing with frozen culverts and cleaning drainage basins in order to prevent flooding. Motorists need to slow down as they approach ponding on roadways and give our crews the space they need to work safely,” Doughty said. “Today, we are working across the state to minimize drainage problems caused by the spike in temperatures and tonight we’ll be working to de-ice the roads. As the temperatures plummet tonight, please watch out for black ice. If you don’t have to go out this evening, play it safe and stay home.”

The heavy freezing rain and rising wind is knocking out power to customers around the state just a week after reconnections were wrapping up from a Christmas-week ice storm.

As of 8:30 p.m., Emera Maine had approximately 330 customers without power, and Central Maine Power listed more than 84 outages on its website.

Emera Maine spokeswoman Susan Faloon said outages climbed on Monday due to windy and rainy conditions.

“Melting is causing ice to fall from tree limbs causing added damage,” she said. “Icing may occur later in the day as temperatures drop which may cause additional power outages.”

As of 4:30 p.m., Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative had about 350 customers without power in Washington County, said spokesman Charlie McAlpin. The outages there peaked at about 1,200 earlier in the afternoon when wind speeds picked up, he said. Winds were expected to slow down about 6 p.m., so McAlpin did not expect the outages to be long lasting.

Much of Eastern Maine was under a wind advisory until 6 p.m. Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington county residents expected 25-35 mph winds, the weather service said, with gusts as high as 45 mph.

Lead meteorologist Joe Hewitt of the National Weather Service in Caribou said Sunday that Monday’s rain, which could be as much as ¾ inch in the coastal areas, would fall on top of melted snow and could clog storm drains.

Augusta police advised residents to stay off the roads in the city if at all possible, and plugged storm drains are preventing safe passages on multiple streets.

“We are asking travelers in the City of Augusta to limit all travel unless absolutely necessary,” Augusta police Lt. Keith Brann said.

Brann is also advising drivers to avoid low-lying areas and hilly streets if travel is necessary.

Bangor police were also concerned about potential flooding in the downtown area, and as a result, the East and West Kenduskeag Plaza parking lots were closed, Sgt. Cathy Rumsey said.

Those who hold permits in those lots were advised to move their vehicles to the Lower Abbott Lot off Harlow Street or into the Pickering Square garage.

Meanwhile, the catch basins near the the Penobscot Judicial Center overflowed, causing wastewater to get into the courthouse’s parking garage, court spokeswoman Mary Ann Lynch said in an email.

“Staff have been advised that the parking garage will be closed tomorrow due to the wastewater issue,” she said. “The garage will be power-washed before any vehicles are moved back in.” For Tuesday, she said, the court has obtained permission to use the Aubuchon parking lot until its own is clean.

State police were also forced to shut down the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 around mile marker 161 in Newport for about 15 minutes Monday afternoon.

Lt. Wes Hussey said the shutdown was to remove a tractor-trailer that left the road earlier in the day. The truck was in the median and no injuries were reported.

Later in the week, the cold will return, with temperatures 0-10 degrees overnight Monday through Friday morning, and daytime highs no more than 15-20 degrees in the Bangor area. The southern part of the state will reach 25-30 degrees later in the week.

In northern and central Aroostook County, a freezing rain advisory from the National Weather Service Office in Caribou was in effect until 1 p.m., as freezing rain and pockets of rain were expected to bring accumulations up to an inch of ice to the area. Freezing rain began falling in early Monday, canceling schools in several towns and several community organizations closed for the day.

Southern Aroostook was under a hazardous weather outlook, as forecasters warned that melting snow and ice in combination with another round of rain would lead to ponding of water of area roads. Schools and several community organizations closed. The National Weather Service also said that culverts could become clogged leading to minor street flooding, which could freeze in the evening hours if on the roads and sidewalks.

Police in Aroostook County reported multiple accidents in the area due to ice and snow. The Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department warned motorists on its Facebook page to stay off the road, reporting that they were working with the Maine State Police to help a tractor trailer that went off the road on Route 212 in Merrill sometime after 10 a.m.

Temperatures are expected to drop into the single digits by early Tuesday morning.

BDN staff Ryan McLaughlin, Jen Lynds, Tony Reaves and Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.

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