Eric Hammond and Sage Parker expected to be at home on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas on Thursday, enjoying beach weather.
Instead, they walked the streets of downtown Portland leaning into the wind, snow stinging their faces, without even winter boots on their feet.
Thursday’s storm brought the first big snowfall of the season, and more than any storm brought last winter.
In the three winter months from December 2011 through February 2012, only 23.5 inches of snow fell in Portland, according to the National Weather Service.
By 7 p.m. Thursday, the Portland International Jetport had reported 10 inches of snow, with flakes still falling at a steady rate.
Parker, who grew up in Maine, said she knew what to expect from the winter storm. But Hammond, who’s from St. Thomas, had a hat but no gloves and only a light jacket.
The couple had left their home in the Caribbean to celebrate Christmas with Parker’s family in Sumner, and planned to catch their scheduled flight home early Thursday from the jetport.
“We knew there was going to be a storm, but we thought we would be able to get out before it came,” Parker said.
They arrived in Portland around 5 p.m. Wednesday and checked into a hotel, planning to get up early and leave the looming storm behind them. “We went to do the night over and escape,” Parker said.
But that didn’t happen. Their flight was canceled, and the next flight out isn’t until Sunday.
Instead, they walked the streets in sneakers, the only closed-toed shoes they had, and shopped for toothpaste and gloves, they said, laughing at their own plight.
Their friends had posted pictures on Facebook of St. Thomas, where the temperatures reached the 80s.
“They’re at the beach swimming as we speak,” Hammond said.
But Parker, a wedding photographer, and Hammond, a boat captain and yacht broker, planned to make the best of their time in Portland, taking in a movie and going out for dinner.
The slow-moving, powerful storm blanketed much of southern Maine with as much as 12 inches of snow, closing government offices and triggering myriad parking bans in Greater Portland.
Snow fell all day Thursday and into early Friday morning, complicating cleanup efforts throughout the day as crews scrambled to aid motorists and clear roads. State offices as well as several city halls were closed.
Public safety departments were on full alert. In Wells, police closed a portion of Webhannet Drive on Thursday morning, when breaking waves washed away part of the road and spilled rocks and debris on parts of the remaining asphalt, police said.
At Portland’s jetport, about a third of the day’s flights were canceled and many others were delayed, said marketing manager Gregory Hughes, who praised plow crews for keeping runways clear.
Many planes pushed back from the terminal on time but were delayed during de-icing procedures, Hughes said. Several passengers headed for Burlington, Vt., were diverted to Portland and bused north, which caused brief moments of chaos, Hughes said.
“A good day not to be flying,” he said.
Along Interstate 295, many motorists slid into guardrails and embankments, but no one was seriously injured, according to state police. Fender-benders were common on smaller roads west of the turnpike, where police departments reported minor accidents.
Few homes and businesses lost power, according to Central Maine Power Co.’s website. Among more than 600,000 customers, the highest number without power at one time was about 250, according to CMP’s website.
Police in York responded to a leaking underground propane tank at the 3 Buoys restaurant. The leak closed Route 1 from the York-Kittery town line to South Side Road for several hours while utility crews worked on repairs.
It was unclear if the snowstorm contributed to the cause of the leak.
On India Street in Portland, a snow plow ruptured a gas line, which briefly drew fire crews and maintenance workers from Unitil.
Unitil spokesman Alec O’Meara said there was no threat to the public, and the gas line would be repaired.
The Portland Pirates postponed their game against the Providence Bruins that was scheduled for Thursday at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The game was rescheduled for Jan. 2.
With the driving snow, many residents chose to stay home. But a few, like Frederica Jackson, took the opportunity to romp in the winter weather before catching a meal and a movie downtown.
The powdery snow was welcome to Jackson, who was disappointed by last year’s paltry snow totals. “I like the old-fashioned snowstorms,” she said.
Eric Richardson, a manager at Nickelodeon Cinemas on Temple Street, arrived at work long before show time and found a crowd already gathered outside.
Richardson, a Rhode Island native who has lived in Portland for years, was ready for the weather, with a hat and a scarf, though recent winters haven’t created a need for a lot of cold-weather gear.
“Interestingly, when I moved up here in 2008, we had a serious storm. Then we didn’t have much since,” Richardson said.
That winter, from December 2008 through February 2009, brought 70.5 inches of snow to Portland, 23.6 inches above average, National Weather Service records show.
The winter of 2007-08 trumped that amount, with 90.7 inches of snowfall, making it the fifth-snowiest winter on record in Portland.
At least a trace of snow fell on 44 winter days, and once Portland accumulated 8.5 inches of snow, on Dec. 3, 2007, the city had snow cover for the rest of the season, according to the weather service.
Aside from those two snowy winters, Portland winters have alternated between mild seasons with light snowfall to winters with heavier snow.
The winter of 2009-10 was mild, with an average temperature of 28.4 degrees, the sixth-warmest on record, and 37 inches of snow.
The winter of 2010-11 was colder, with more snow. The average temperature was 24.8 degrees, and Portland received 69.2 inches of snow.
Last winter, from December 2011 to February 2012, the average temperature was 30.3 degrees, the second-warmest winter ever recorded in Portland.
Staff Writer Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:
Staff Writer Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:
Note: This article was updated at 9:52 a.m. on Friday, December 28, 2012 to change the number of people who lost power and to correct the spelling of Frederica Jackson.