Mainers hunkered down Thursday as a blizzard blew through the state, with strong winds and fast-accumulating snowfall.
The National Weather Service had issued a hurricane-force wind warning for coastal waters, but by Thursday evening most of the wind damage seemed to be centered in Kennebec County, where more than 2,300 customers of Central Maine Power had lost electricity.
In all, CMP had nearly 4,000 customers without power as of 7:30 p.m. Thursday, according to information posted on the company’s website. Emera Maine, the state’s other large electric utility, had 850 customers without power, most of them in and around the eastern coastal communities of Deer Isle, Jonesboro, Roque Bluffs and Beals.
Those numbers pale in comparison with outages caused by a fierce wind storm that blew through Maine in October, which, like Thursday’s blizzard, was categorized as a “bomb cyclone” because of a rapid decrease in atmospheric pressure that whipped up strong winds. Nearly half a million Mainers lost power in the Oct. 30 storm.
Thursday’s blizzard, which began in southern Maine in the pre-dawn hours, was expected to continue through the overnight hours in eastern Maine as the storm blows into Canada, with the snow and winds giving way to sunshine but frigid temperatures on Friday.
— NWS Caribou (@NWSCaribou) January 5, 2018
According to forecasters, snow depth readings around 7 p.m. ranged from a couple of inches in some places to more than a foot in others, with winds blowing the snow around and making consistent snowfall estimates difficult. Most snowfall counts registered by the National Weather Service in Maine were for half a foot or more, with a high reading of 15 inches in Turner and readings of 2 inches in Linneus and Cutler.
NWS snow counts included 9 inches in Bangor, nearly a foot at the Portland Jetport, and 13 inches in Lewiston.
According to the NWS office in Gray, the highest wind gust measured in Maine was a 61 mph blast at Matinicus Rock, followed by several gusts in coastal towns between 50 and 60 mph. Further inland, gusts of 52 and 51 mph were measured respectively in Augusta and Manchester in Kennebec County.
The highest wind speed measured by weather buoys off the coast was 62 mph at the edge of the continental shelf south of Nova Scotia. The largest measured wave, detected by a buoy on the south edge of Georges Bank, was 33 feet high.
Tom Hawley, a weather service forecaster in Gray, said Thursday that as the storm moves away from Maine, more frigid air accompanied by windchill is predicted to push thermometer readings back down toward the zero mark going into the weekend, he said.
Mainers just experienced a seven-day cold snap from Dec. 27 through Jan. 2, when daytime temperatures in much of the state peaked in the single digits and fell below zero at night.
“We’re going to get through this storm first, and then likely have to issue wind chill warnings for Friday and Saturday,” Hawley said.
Saturday’s wind could make some mountainous regions feel as cold as 40 below zero, he added.
Flooding also was an issue in low-lying areas along the coast, where storm surge combined with an astronomical high tide at around 12:30 p.m. to flood some parking lots, roadways, and a few buildings. Portland hit its third-highest tide ever on Thursday, measuring at 13.79 feet, according to the National Weather Service. The top two tides in Portland since 1912 both occurred in early 1978, including one that crested over 14 feet in conjunction with a blizzard on Feb. 7 of that year.
Several reports about flooding Thursday in southern and midcoast Maine, from Kennebunkport to Port Clyde to Belfast, were posted to social media accounts on Twitter and Facebook. A YouTube user with the handle Untamed Mainer posted a minute-long video of vehicles driving past floodwaters encroaching on the roadway of the causeway between Deer Isle and Little Deer Isle.
In Belfast, rising waters around noon forced the closure of the public parking lot near Nautilus restaurant and the harbormaster’s building, while several inches seeped into the first floor of Marshall Wharf Brewing, Co. As in many other towns throughout the state, most businesses in Belfast were closed for the day or planned to close early because of the storm.
Posted by Nick McCrea on Thursday, January 4, 2018
A portion of Route 1 through Lincolnville also reportedly flooded during high tide, leaving large chunks of ice in the road.
Forecasters warned that more coastal flooding still was possible late Thursday night or early Friday morning in eastern Maine as another high tide was expected between midnight and 1 a.m. A coastal flood advisory was scheduled to be in effect until 11 p.m. for Hancock and Washington counties.
Thursday’s storm prompted many schools, businesses and government offices throughout Maine not to open or to close early so employees and the public could stay off the roads, which became slick and difficult to navigate as the snow moved into Maine from the southwest.
Travel conditions quickly became — and remained — poor after the line of snow advanced northeast, prompting speeds along the Maine Turnpike to be reduced to 45 mph. Forecasters warned that strong winds and blowing snow would severely limit visibility, and that expected freezing drizzle in far northern Maine could impact travel on Interstate 95 and on routes 1 and 11.
The Metro bus service in Portland, Maine’s largest city, stopped service at 11 a.m., while the Portland International Jetport tweeted around 10 a.m. that all remaining departing flights were canceled. All arriving and departing flights from Bangor International Airport were canceled, according to the airport’s website.
Casco Bay Lines, the ferry service that connects Portland to several nearby islands, ran as scheduled during the day but some scheduled evening runs to Peaks Island were canceled according to information posted on the ferry service website.
Bangor city offices closed at noon, but the the building stayed open as a warming center until late in the afternoon, one of several public buildings in the city to offer daytime and evening shelter to the public. Maine Emergency Management Agency wrote on its website that more than a dozen warming centers spread through Maine were open Thursday, with some expected to remain open into Friday.
Other local governments, such as Portland and Lewiston, closed early. All state offices closed for the day. Schools in Bangor and Portland were called off Wednesday night ahead of the storm, adding to the list of other school districts that have told students to stay home Thursday.
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