Outdoors

Paralyzing blizzard strikes Maine

Posted Feb. 13, 2017, at 3:19 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 14, 2017, at 6:34 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A blizzard that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in some areas brought parts of Maine to a virtual standstill Monday.

Heavy snow, coupled with wind gusts of more than 35 mph, resulted in whiteout conditions so severe that the Maine Department of Transportation ordered some snowplows in the Bangor area as well as in the midcoast and Down East regions off the roads temporarily because of poor visibility.

“People need to realize just how intense this snow is,” Department of Transportation spokesman Ted Talbot said at about 12:45 p.m. Monday. “We urge people to please stay off the road.”

With snow falling at a rate of 2 to 4 inches per hour at the height of the storm, travel conditions were extremely hazardous, if not impossible at times. The National Weather Service reported that drifting snow could range from 5 to 7 feet deep in spots.

Schools, businesses, medical offices, all state government offices and many municipal offices shut down for the day. More than 1,230 cancellations, closures, parking bans and delays had been announced as of early Monday afternoon.

Notably, the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine campuses shut down as did the Bangor Mall and Hollywood Casino, where only the hotel and snack bar remained open.

Residents of Greater Bangor and Greater Portland who were unable to dig their own vehicles out also weren’t able to use public transportation on Monday, and the Community Connector and METRO systems both were down because of the heavy snow and wind.

The snow began falling in parts of the state late Sunday afternoon and continued to rapidly intensify overnight.

“We’ve had several 2-feet reports,” meteorologist Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service’s office in Gray said early Monday afternoon.

Some winners in the snow lottery as of 5 p.m. were Nobleboro, Bristol and Jefferson, which at that hour appeared to have the most snow at 27 inches, according to snowfall totals from the weather service.

Reporting 26 inches were Cary Plantation in Aroostook County, Vassalboro and Benton. Island Falls and Starks had 25 inches.

By early afternoon, South Portland had about 16.5 inches and Portland had 15.1 inches.

As of early Monday afternoon, the snow depth in Bangor stood at 19 inches, meteorologist Don Dumond of the weather service’s Caribou office said. The next official snowfall report from Bangor was not expected until about 7 p.m., he said.

It wasn’t immediately clear Monday afternoon if the current storm would be a record breaker, Dumond said.

The storm could be among the Top 10, possibly among the Top 5, by the time it is over, he said.

As far as records go for two-day storm events, Bangor’s record was a whopping 32.2 inches in 1947. Millinocket was close, with 32 inches in 1962, and Eastport had 29 inches in 2013, Dumond said.

The sheer amount of snow was causing headaches for many Mainers, including Winterport resident Stephen Browne, who was allowed to leave work early at Roto-Rooter Sewer and Drain Service in Bangor because of the weather.

“I called my boss and said I couldn’t see, and he said to go home,” Browne said while shopping at the Hannaford grocery store in Hampden. “It’s pretty [expletive] out there, and he’s still out in Palmyra.”

Browne, who said it wasn’t that bad when he got to work at 7 a.m., was the lone shopper in the store at about 11:15 a.m.

“I got cat food, steak, peppers,” Browne said.

Cashier Robyn Hepler said she got out of her driveway OK this morning but worried about getting back in after work.

In Bangor, the blizzard prompted a citywide parking ban. Those who did not want to get their vehicles towed at their own expense were directed to park in several designated areas, according to a Bangor Police Department Facebook post that also was shared through an email alert.

The storm likely contributed to the collapse of a bowling alley’s roof in Millinocket on Sunday night. The sudden structural failure at Katahdin Pins ’n Cues at about 11 p.m. was powerful enough to send debris flying like shrapnel across Penobscot Avenue, shattering windows to an unused building.

In Medway, meanwhile, a privately-contracted snowplow driver accidentally caused the emergency evacuation and closure of the Country Diner-Big Apple Convenience Store on Route 11 at about 11:30 a.m. Monday. The plow truck’s blade accidentally sheared off the fill-pipe to an underground, 1,000-gallon liquid propane tank that pressure-vented the explosive material for almost 10 minutes, Medway Fire Chief Jon Buckingham said.

“Once we got there, we could smell a strong odor of propane, but it wasn’t doing any pressurized venting at that point. It was just venting vapors,” Buckingham said.

The diner and store will be closed for at least another day. Dead River Co. workers advised firefighters that it would take 10 to 15 hours for the tank to empty itself enough to be safe for repairing, Buckingham said.

The tank was located in a far corner well away from the building, and the wind was blowing strong enough, to eliminate the need for further evacuation, said Buckingham, who believed the two businesses used the propane for heating and stove operations. Firefighters kept watch on the tanks for two hours before returning to station, he said.

National Weather Service forecasters expected the biggest snowstorm seen so far this winter to linger into Monday evening, winding down about 6 p.m. in Greenville and Bangor and by about 9 p.m. in Houlton, Calais, Eastport and Machias before moving east out of Maine.

By the time it does leave the state, the storm has the potential of dropping up to 36 inches of snow in the Millinocket area and as much as 30 inches in Bangor, according to forecasters.

The combination of snow and high winds also resulted in power outages. Shortly before 4 p.m., nearly 1,800 Emera Maine customers were without service, the vast majority of them in Hancock County.

Emera attributed the problem to increasing wind speeds, with gusts of more than 60 mph in an outage alert. Most of the outages were in Birch Harbor, Gouldsboro, Manset, Sullivan, Winter Harbor and nearby areas.

Dangerous travel conditions caused by blowing and drifting snow were delaying restoration efforts as repair crews struggled to reach damage area, spokesman Bob Potts said.

Meanwhile, about 280 Central Maine Power customers were without power later afternoon — significantly down from the 1,200 earlier in the day.

There won’t be much respite when this storm ends either. Dumond said that more snow is likely to arrive by midweek, when a storm is expected to dump another 8 to 10 inches Wednesday into Thursday.

Bangor Daily News writers Nok Noi Ricker, Beth Brogan and Nick Sambides Jr. contributed to this report.

 

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