First major snowstorm dumps more than a foot on Maine

Posted Dec. 15, 2013, at 8:46 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 15, 2013, at 3:45 p.m.

GRAY, Maine — The season’s first major snowstorm in Maine continued north Sunday afternoon after dumping more than a foot of powder across the state. Snow was expected to continue in northern and western areas into early Monday morning.

Several towns in York County reported 16 inches of snow, Phippsburg recorded 12 inches and Gray saw 9 to 10 inches, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.

By 1 p.m. Sunday most of the storm had passed the Bangor area, forecaster Maureen Hastings, of the National Weather Service in Caribou, said.

“The worst is definitely past,” she said. “You’ll still have some light snow throughout the afternoon.”

Around 9.5 inches of snow fell in Veazie, 10 inches was reported on the ground in Millinocket, 9.2 inches had piled up in Orono, 13 inches in Linneus and 12 inches had fallen in East Machias by 1:15 p.m., the weather service website for Caribou states.

“The heavy snow is going on in eastern Aroostook County, all the way down to Washington County,” Hastings said Sunday afternoon.

The northern end of Maine could get close to 18 inches of snow before the storm moves on toward Canada’s Atlantic Coast on Sunday night, with visibility fading, the National Weather Service said. The snow is likely to turn to freezing rain along New England’s coast.

The storm brought about a rare phenomenon in Mars Hill, the forecaster said.

“We’re actually getting reports of lightning strikes,” she said. “It’s not abnormal … it probably happens a couple times a year. It’s called thunder snow.”

The first lightning strike showed up on the weather agency’s radar screen at about noon Sunday and several others have been seen since, Hastings said.

Conditions are expected to improve throughout the day, meteorologist Mike Ekster of the National Weather Service said, although light snow and perhaps some freezing drizzle are still possible in the Portland area.

“In the midcoast and further north, it’s still coming in,” Ekster said. “There’s still a little more snow to go.”

The Gray office took no reports of official blizzard conditions — meaning winds reached 35 mph, and visibility was less than a quarter-mile for three hours.

However, Ekster said, “I’m sure in a couple of places — the midcoast, Rockland — they’re seeing conditions that are pretty close.”

Flights canceled

Forty flights were canceled as of Sunday afternoon out of Logan International Airport in Boston, according to

The snowstorm comes on one of the busiest shopping weekends of the year and during one of the shortest holiday buying seasons, with only four weeks separating Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Another 1 to 4 inches of snow could fall in western New York, and light snow showers were predicted around the Great Lakes region over the coming days.

The snowstorm covered a huge swath of the United States on Saturday from Missouri to the East Coast, causing road accidents and the cancellation of more than 1,000 flights.

Frigid cold

Aroostook, Piscataquis, Penobscot and Somerset counties experienced biting wind chills throughout the day on Friday. The wind chill warning was in effect through Saturday morning.

Wind chills were expected to get as low as 35 below zero.

Temperatures in northern Maine dropped into double-digits below zero around the region with spotters in Eagle Lake and the Big Black Lake area reporting readings at minus 32 degrees fahrenheit and minus 34, respectively, according to Joe Hewitt, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Other readings around the region as of 8 a.m. Saturday included minus 26 near Allagash, minus 23 in Fort Kent, minus 16 in Frenchville, minus 13 in Presque Isle and minus 12 in Houlton.

“We have a cold arctic blast with a strong high pressure coming down from Canada,” Hewitt said. “It’s not really that unusual to see temperatures like this, but to get this cold this early, we have not seen that in at least five years.”

Difficult driving conditions

Extreme cold resulted in snow that is “very light and fluffy,” Ekster said Saturday. While the snow is easier to clear, wind gusts and heavy accumulation were making for dangerous driving conditions. Fortunately many people decided to stay off the roads Sunday.

Approximately 12 slide-offs were reported on the Maine Turnpike as of 10 a.m., with no injuries. Only three or four vehicles required assistance to get back on the road, state police Sgt. Jim Urquhart said.

Similar reports of slide-offs were made to the Orono barracks of the Maine State Police, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office and Orono Police Department.

“It’s been pretty quiet,” Orono police Sgt. Dan Merrill said Sunday morning. “The roads are snow covered, and we’ve had a couple cars off.”

No injuries had been reported in the slide-offs, he said.

“So far, so good,” Merrill said.

Police in Portland and Brunswick said they did not respond to any storm-related emergencies.

“It’s been pretty quiet,” Brunswick police Sgt. Russ Wrede said Sunday morning.