Wind-driven snowstorm sweeps across Maine

Posted Dec. 27, 2012, at 8:48 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 28, 2012, at 8:47 a.m.

Winter storm Euclid blew into Maine on Thursday, shutting down local and state government operations, canceling flights out of Bangor and Portland, and making roads messy and potentially dangerous for holiday travelers.

Parts of the state will be covered by up to 18 inches of snow by early Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

“I would say we had a traditional nor’easter. The most significant impact of this storm was felt mostly in interior portions of the northeast,” Todd Foisy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said early Thursday evening. “There have been some pretty significant winds with this storm, some gusts as high as 45 to 50 miles per hour in our forecast area, from Bangor east.”

Foisy said the strongest gusts measured 70 mph on Criehaven, the farthest offshore inhabited island on the East Coast. Criehaven, also known as Ragged Island, is near Matinicus Rock and southeast of Rockland.

Foisy said that as of 5 p.m. Thursday, Aroostook County had just 2 inches of snowfall. That figure rose to 4 inches in Caribou at 7 p.m. and 5 inches in Presque Isle at 7:45 p.m.

“In northern Maine, it’s really been cranking up since early afternoon and will continue on with the heaviest snowfall between now and 1 a.m.,” said Foisy.

Meteorologist Tim Duda said the Bangor area could expect another 2-4 inches for a total of 7-10 by the time the storm winds down early Friday morning.

Foisy said a winter storm warning would remain in effect until 7 a.m. Friday for the Bangor area and until 1 p.m. Friday from Millinocket north.

The storm developed from a powerful squall that spawned tornadoes from Texas to Alabama, killing at least six people and leaving thousands without power.

Most government and school offices in Maine were closed Thursday morning.

The heaviest accumulations likely will occur farther north, in the Mount Katahdin, Greenville and Houlton areas, said Duda.

“So far, it’s doing what it was supposed to do,” Tony Mignone, a weather service meteorologist based in Caribou, said about noon Thursday when asked if the storm’s track had changed as it poked its way north.

At 5:30 p.m., Portland reported 8.7 inches of snow and Lewiston-Auburn had 7 ½ as of 7:20 p.m.

By 5 p.m., the snow was starting to pile up in eastern and Down East Maine, according to a weather service statement posted at that time. East Millinocket had broken the 13-inch mark at 6 p.m. Greenville and Dover-Foxcroft each had 5 ½ inches of snow, while in Washington County, Wesley had about 6 inches and Vanceboro had 12 at 6 p.m..

Residents Down East were prepared for the winter storm, said Josh Bickford, manager of Renys on Ellsworth’s busy High Street retail area. On Wednesday, as winter storm warnings were announced, customers rushed in for road salt, shovels and window scrapers for their cars.

“There’s always a rush before a storm,” Bickford said.

Maine Maritime Academy in Castine closed at noon, canceling all campus activities until Friday morning.

While many flights were going off without a hitch at the Portland International Jetport, the storm kept a few planes on the ground in Bangor.

As of 9:30 a.m. Thursday, only six departures out of Portland had been canceled, according to airport marketing director Gregory Hughes.

“When I came in a little before 7, I came in off the turnpike and there were a gazillion plows out there,” Hughes said.

Two U.S. Airways flights from Portland to Washington, D.C., were canceled, along with two departures to Philadelphia on U.S. Airways and two Delta departures between Portland and Detroit.

In Bangor, two early morning U.S. Airways flights went off without a hitch to Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., respectively, but there were many cancellations, airport director Tony Caruso said.

All outbound flights from Bangor to Detroit were canceled, Caruso said, along with the remainder of U.S. Air’s scheduled departures to Philadelphia and Washington. Allegiant Air’s regular departures from Bangor to Sanford, Fla., were scheduled for noon and 6 p.m. while Delta’s departures from Bangor to New York late Thursday morning and early Thursday afternoon were canceled.

“The Allegiant flight to Sanford departed an hour late, around 1 or 1:30 p.m.,” said Caruso, noting that the last scheduled flight to cancel — Allegiant Air’s 6 p.m. flight to Sanford, Fla. — was canceled around 2 p.m.

Caruso and Hughes advised passengers to check with their travel agents and airlines before heading to the airports.

“I think they [Allegiant] were looking to reschedule that flight for tomorrow, but that’s not confirmed at this time,” Caruso said.

Caruso said BIA didn’t receive any inbound flights after noon, but was still conducting normal flight operations with the runway and taxiways all still open as of Thursday afternoon.

“To us, it’s a normal winter storm,” he said. “This is what our staff is trained to handle. We have one of the best snow removal crews out there.”

Caruso was referring to BIA being recognized with the Balchen-Post Award, which the airport won in 2010 and received an honorable mention from in 2011. The award is a national honor presented for airport excellence in snow and ice control.

Bus transportation went off without a hitch throughout the state as well. A ticket agent at Concord Coach Lines said all departures out of Bangor and Portland went off as scheduled, with no reported cancellations.

Police dispatchers in central Maine said there have been only minor accidents associated with the storm, with no one seriously injured.

All the anticipated snow also means fun for state snowmobilers and money for the snowmobile industry, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

Storms last week created snowmobiling conditions from Millinocket up to the Canadian border, if not bases upon which conditions can be built, Meyers said.

Volunteer trail groomers working for many clubs affiliated with the Maine Snowmobile Association — the backbone of the state’s snowmobiling industry — have told Meyers they will be out on trails by this weekend creating good snowmobile conditions, he said.

“There is an excellent base in many areas and I think some people have mistaken the lack of activity [on snowmobile trails] with lack of snow,” Meyers said. “Some of the grooming took a backseat to Christmas, which is appropriate, but from what we are hearing, everybody is gearing up to be ready for New Year’s Eve weekend.”

Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway announced Wednesday that because of the snowstorm, a job fair scheduled for Thursday at the casino was canceled and the facility’s Epic Buffet would be closed. The second night of the job fair scheduled for 5-9 p.m. Friday will take place as scheduled.

The Epic Buffet will reopen for regular hours beginning at 11 a.m. Friday, the casino said.

Penobscot Theatre’s sold-out performance of “Annie,” scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, was canceled because of the storm. The theater has added a noon performance on Saturday, and tickets for Thursday’s scheduled performance will be honored Saturday.

Those holding tickets who have questions should call Penobscot Theatre’s box office at 942-3333.

A guest services representative at the Bangor Mall said the facility was open for normal business hours — 10 a.m. through 9 p.m. — on Thursday.

Snow didn’t start falling in Aroostook County until early afternoon, but the East Coast storm began affecting Northern Maine Regional Airport in Presque Isle much earlier. Because of the nor’easter, PenAir canceled all flights between Boston and Presque Isle for the day. There were very few early cancellations.

Click here for a complete list of delays and cancellations.

The Bloomberg news service contributed to this report.

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