The combination of fresh powder and sustained winds Tuesday created some of the most challenging winter road conditions in Aroostook County’s recent memory.
“It was like nothing that I’ve ever seen before in the years I’ve been doing this,” Maine Department of Transportation Region 5 Manager Bob Watson said Wednesday of the weather that closed schools, businesses and roads.
“It was a perfect storm: 10-12 inches of fresh powder and then such strong sustained winds for a long period time.”
Watson said the transportation officials will be spending the rest of the week cleaning up snow drifts, and urged drivers to be both vigilant and patient.
The cold temperatures and wind chills are expected to moderate Thursday into the weekend, with high temperatures in the 20s by the weekend, according to the National Weather Service.
While the white out conditions led to crashes, including a totaled Presque Isle police cruiser, and stranded drivers, none appeared to have left people with major injuries.
Aroostook County Sheriff Shawn Gillen said his office received more than 300 calls related to 20 crashes Tuesday.
“Three of those accidents were personal injury accidents that required ambulance transport. None of those were life-threatening though,” Gillen said in an email. Only one crash involved a single vehicle, while the rest involved anywhere from two to nine vehicles, he said.
“We had 23 stuck or stranded vehicle calls with 5 of them requiring fire rescue. We had three downed powerline calls as well.”
In Presque Isle, where 10 local roads were closed at various points Tuesday, a police officer’s cruiser was struck from behind while the officer was attending to the scene of a crash. The cruiser was totaled while the officer “walked away with only minor injuries,” according to the police department.
On Wednesday, as strong though-less-powerful winds continued, a number of schools and organizations remained closed or delayed opening around The County
In Caribou, where city offices were closed Wednesday, officer Craig Peterson said that, between crashes and stranded motorists, Caribou police have handled roughly 25 incidents related to the weather.
He added that while the police have have previously handled this number of incidents in a single day, it’s not exactly a common occurrence.
“It was not a normal day,” Peterson said, “I’ll put it that way, but this has happened in the past. Yesterday was one of those rare occurrences.”
Police are recommending that the public avoid traveling if possible, and to be cautious if driving anywhere Wednesday.
“Plan ahead,” Peterson said, “and, if at all possible, call ahead. Whether it’s work or another destination, call to make sure that it is in fact open. Allow yourself some additional time and maintain your patience and composure, because everyone is going through the same thing.”
For the Transportation Department’s Region 5, which covers all of Aroostook County and portions of Penobscot, Piscatiquis and Washington counties, Tuesday’s weather and this winter in general has stretched the winter budget and highlighted the need for more windbreaks, Watson said.
“The winter has been the poster child for why we need to do more of that,” he said, referring to proposals to plant more evergreens to act as windbreaks along large open fields. “We need to get more of that done.”
The agency’s Region 5 has a crew of about 180 people for snow and ice control and a winter budget of about $10 million, Watson said.
“We’re a little behind on our budget from what we’d like to be,” he said, adding that the agency may postpone some spring duties until the new fiscal year in July.
“The big thing moving forward is for the rest of the winter, everybody is going to have to be patient. A regular snowstorm isn’t going to be a routine snowstorm because there’s no place to put the snow. The snowbanks the way they are, people need to be extra vigilant.”
Aroostook Republican & News writer Christopher Bouchard contributed to this report.
This story was originally published in The County.