Outdoors

Nor’easter blankets Maine, collapses UMaine’s Mahaney Dome

Posted Dec. 30, 2016, at 6:34 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 31, 2016, at 7:12 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The heavy, wet snow that fell Thursday night made for great snowballs, but it also caused damage and travel problems all over the state, some parts of which saw up to 2 feet. The snow knocked out power to more than 100,000 residents, brought down utility lines and even caused the University of Maine’s Mahaney Dome to collapse.

But the snowfall for 2016 isn’t over yet, as a fast-moving storm system is forecast to pass through the state as revelers prepare to welcome in the new year on Saturday.

“We have an ‘Alberta clipper’ that is heading our way,” meteorologist Priscilla Farrar of the National Weather Service in Caribou said Friday. “It’s going to bring snow to the area late Saturday. On New Year’s Eve night, it’s going to be snowing down there [in downtown Bangor].”

Bangor should get 3 to 5 inches of snow between Saturday night and Sunday morning, but only 2 to 4 inches are predicted in Down East areas and 1 to 3 inches are expected to fall up north in Aroostook County, Farrar said.

The low-pressure system heading toward Maine formed in Alberta in western Canada and is expected to cause temperatures to plunge, the meteorologist said.

“It looks like on New Year’s Eve night it’s going to be in the mid-20s, which is 5 to 10 degrees lower than normal for the Bangor area,” she said.

Mainers were busy Friday digging out from the Thursday night storm, but officials at UMaine had an even bigger headache to deal with than a plowed-in driveway.

The Mahaney Dome, an 8,000-square-foot structure erected in 2006 adjacent to UMaine’s field house, buckled under the weight of the snow that fell Thursday night, Will Biberstein, UMaine’s senior associate athletic director for internal operations, said Friday.

“It’s fortunate that it happened in the middle of the night and there was nobody in the dome at the time,” he said of the multipurpose dome, which includes FieldTurf artificial grass and is the indoor practice home for several Black Bear sports teams. “It’s kind of a slow season before everybody returns from winter break, so hopefully we can make our assessments and try to move forward as soon as possible.”

Biberstein said it was not clear when the dome will return to operation.

“We’re currently in the evaluation process,” he said. “We’ll turn to that and see what the next steps are going to be.”

Biberstein said he could not say whether the dome would be ready in time for UMaine’s baseball and softball teams to kick off preseason practices.

“We haven’t figured that out,” he said.

The Mahaney Dome was made possible by a $1 million donation from Kevin Mahaney on behalf of his father, the late Larry Mahaney, a longtime benefactor of UMaine athletics.

A January 2007 winter storm also brought down the air-supported indoor practice facility, temporarily closing it when a large tear developed in the building’s fabric covering after substantial snowfall and heavy rains blanketed the area.

The combination of warm ocean air clashing with arctic cold from the north and west created the “first strong nor’easter New England has seen this season,” according to Todd Foisy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Much of Maine received double-digit snowfall, the National Weather Service said, with Oxford County in southern Maine reporting 27 inches in some locations.

There were reports in the Portland area of thundersnow, a rare meteorological event in which thunder and lightning accompany a snowstorm.

As Mainers awoke Friday, more than 100,000 discovered they were without power. Central Maine Power listed about 91,000 outages early Friday, and Emera Maine had an estimated 22,492 customers without power as of 9 a.m. Friday.

“Penobscot and Hancock counties have been hardest hit overnight, with additional customers out in Washington County,” an Emera press release stated. “The combination of wet snow, sleet and strong, gusty winds has brought trees and tree limbs down onto electrical lines.”

Emera Maine’s Storm Response Team had been preparing for the storm for several days.

CMP brought in crews from other states and Canada to work on restoring power and by 4:30 p.m. Friday had reconnected about half of its customers. Restoring power to everyone could take several days in some areas, officials said.

Bangor Public Works had to delay plowing on Kenduskeag Avenue and Center Street because of downed lines, but otherwise, snowplow crews were able to keep the roadways clear, director Dana Wardwell said Friday morning.

“This is Maine,” he said.

In eastern coastal Maine, the storm was primarily a wind event, with precipitation limited to mostly rain and about an inch of snow.

Despite the shoveling required, some outdoor enthusiasts were excited about the snow.

“WOW! What a way to start the season!” the Maine Snowmobile Association, which described the storm as a “whopper,” said on its Facebook page.

BDN writers Bill Trotter and Ryan McLaughlin and Reuters writer Brendan O’Brien contributed to this report.

 

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