Nearly 7 inches of snow in Portland, ‘and the storm hasn’t really even started yet’

Posted Feb. 08, 2013, at 12:31 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 08, 2013, at 6:54 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — Heavy snowfall that already has accumulated to nearly 7 inches in Portland and has been blamed for a 19-vehicle pileup on the highway is just an appetizer, a meteorologist said early Friday afternoon.

Chris Legro of the National Weather Service’s Gray office said that by 1 p.m., 6.6 inches of snow had been reported at Portland International Jetport. He said early forecasts of as little as a foot of snow in Maine’s largest city may be low, “considering we already have 6½ inches and the storm hasn’t really even started yet for Portland.”

“This is all just bonus snow,” Legro said. “The real storm is really just starting now down in Boston. They’re seeing their first snowflakes from the main weather system there.”

A 19-vehicle crash just north of the Falmouth town line in Cumberland represented the first headline-grabbing event of a potentially historic nor’easter forecast to pummel southern Maine with snow deep into Saturday.

Only one injury, which was not life threatening, was reported from the crash, and the mood in southern Maine as the “bonus snow” began was largely light.

Zoo Cairn, who was shoveling the walkway outside Portland’s Fidelity Investments branch in Canal Plaza, said he hopes to see 2 feet or more from the storm.

“I love it,” he said. “It’s winter in Maine.”

Three other adventure seekers took advantage of the snow-covered — and largely empty — city streets to go sledding. Rebecca Merritt and Meghan Carr, both 21, joined a friend who identified himself as Jonathan D., 22, gliding down the middle of Portland’s touristy Exchange Street.

Merritt said they had just moved to the city from nearby Topsham and the in-town sledding excursion was the first time they had tried such an activity.

In addition to the snowfall, meteorologists have forecast wind gusts as great as 65 mph on the coast, and steady winds building up to speeds of 25-35 mph late Friday and into Saturday.

Gov. Paul LePage on Friday afternoon signed a limited state emergency declaration, a step necessary to waive federal Department of Transportation rules and extends the hours of service for workers, as well as allowing additional crews from Canada to assist with repairs.

“This effort will allow power crews to restore power in areas that sustain damage,” LePage said in a statement. “The ability to have electrical service repaired quickly is critical to protect public health and safety of Mainers.”

Dozens of Maine schools, community centers and government offices announced closures early Friday morning, heeding forecasters’ warnings of blizzardlike conditions on the horizon.

The U.S. Postal Service also closed all offices in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont on Saturday, due to the weather, and no mail will be delivered, according to Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service’s northern New England region. The two mail processing plants in Maine will remain open, he said, adding closing post offices before a storm is unprecedented.

Snow is expected to arrive in Bangor around midday, with a total of 14-18 inches likely to fall through Saturday, NWS meteorologists have said.

In both places, the storm is expected to intensify into the evening and last several hours into the day Saturday.

Among the early closures in response to the nor’easter was Portland City Hall, which shut its doors at noon Friday, but not before announcing a parking ban in the city to take effect by 10 p.m.

State offices closed at 3 p.m.

Classes were also called off at schools in Maine’s largest city, as well as in Biddeford, Brunswick, Freeport and Lewiston, among many other districts.

Early dismissals were announced by school systems farther up the storm’s trajectory, in places such as Mount Desert Island and Islesboro, among others.

Some courts around the state also closed at noon because of the inclement weather, including Superior Courts in Waldo, Knox, Lincoln, Cumberland, Kennebec and Sagadahoc counties as well as District Courts in Portland, Belfast, Augusta, Rockland, Wiscasset and Waterville.

The storm is also snarling air traffic coming in and out of Bangor International Airport and Portland International Jetport.

A number of Portland’s early-morning flights took off without a hitch, but afternoon departures to New York, Newark, Chicago, Toronto, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were all canceled.

In Bangor, U.S. Airways’ 12:20 p.m. and 3:20 p.m. flights to Washington and Philadelphia are expected to depart as scheduled, but Delta’s two afternoon departures to New York have been canceled.

Additionally, Bangor’s early-morning Saturday flights to Philadelphia and Washington have been canceled. Saturday morning flights to Detroit and New York are still on.

The news service Reuters reported Friday morning that more than 2,200 flights had been canceled, according to the website FlightAware.com, with the largest number of cancellations at airports in Newark, New York, Chicago and Boston.

Nearly 500 flights were canceled for Saturday, Reuters added.

Traffic also was affected in Down East Maine, after slippery roads caused a pickup truck to spin out of control and strike a utility pole on Route. 15 in Sedgwick. The road was closed around noon for two hours while firefighters used the Jaws of Life extrication device to recover the driver, who was trapped but not seriously injured inside the truck.

The snow also caused changes to rail service on Amtrak’s Downeaster. According to the Downeaster’s website, Friday’s northbound and southbound schedules have been modified because of the storm.

Only two trains made the rounds to Boston, with a 5:25 a.m. departure out of Portland and 7:05 a.m. out of Brunswick departing as scheduled.

The 9:05 a.m. northbound train from Boston departed, while the scheduled 11:35 a.m. train will travel north at 1:05 p.m. instead. All other northbound trains will not operate.

Bus service on Concord Coach Lines and Greyhound is also being affected, with Greyhound’s Friday departure from Bangor to Boston canceled, with a northbound bus from Boston to Bangor also not running.

As for Concord Coach, that company’s 10:15 a.m. departure from Orono to Boston will terminate in Portland, while the 1:30 p.m. trip from Portland to Boston, the 12:15 p.m. route from Colby College to Boston, the 3:30 p.m. departure from Portland to Boston and the 2:50 p.m. trip from Orono to Boston are all canceled.

The 3:35 p.m. trip from Logan Airport to Portland has also been canceled, while the 4:15 p.m. departure from South Station to the Maine coast will terminate in Portland.

A spokesman for the Community Connector in Bangor said BAT buses were running as scheduled Friday, while a parking ban in downtown Bangor will take effect at 11 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Saturday, according to Director of Public Works Dana Wardwell. Vehicles parked on city streets may be towed.

In Rockland, the city’s police and fire department announced parking along all city streets would be banned from 2 p.m. Friday through 2 p.m. Saturday.

Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr. also urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel Friday afternoon until crews have had an opportunity to clear the streets.

“Rockland Public Works will have their hands full with this one. Tonight would be a great evening to grab that book you’ve been planning to read and stay inside for the duration. If you feel the need to venture outside, use that energy to check on a neighbor or help with shoveling,” Jordan said.

The Rockland Fire and Police Departments will be fully staffed and responding to all calls for service. For updates from the Rockland Police Department, the public can visit its Facebook page.

He reminded residents to stock up on flashlight batteries and stressed that candles should not be used.

For a full list of closures and cancellations statewide, visit bangordailynews.com.

BDN writers Ryan McLaughlin, Abigail Curtis, Stephen Betts and Mario Moretto contributed to this report.