Sunshine is expected to return for most of the long July 4th weekend, a welcome reprieve for tourist-dependent businesses that have endured 10 days of rain, drizzle, overcast skies and, in many places, severe thunderstorms.

Michael Cempa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said the skies should be clear for Thursday night’s fireworks displays in Portland and other locations.

The only downside to the forecast will be the temperatures, which Cempa said could soar to 90 degrees during the day and drop to 70 degrees by around 9 o’clock, when most fireworks displays start.

“It is going to be hot and humid pretty much right through the weekend,” Cempa said.

The sun finally broke through the cloud cover Wednesday. Since June 23, most of the state has been stuck in a weather system that has produced rain and cloudy skies.

Weather-dependent businesses reported seeing an immediate surge in business Wednesday, and northbound traffic on the Maine Turnpike spiked to levels that surprised even turnpike officials.

“We were incredibly busy today,” said Nicholas Mavodones Jr., operations manager for Casco Bay Lines, which ferries tourists and residents to the islands of Casco Bay.

Its car ferry service transported 160 cars to Peaks Island on Wednesday, an increase of about 50 over a typical day, Mavodones said.

Crewmen also handled a lot of groceries and supplies — indicators that the islands’ summer population has begun to arrive.

In June, Casco Bay Lines’ freight traffic declined but its passenger counts remained steady.

“It was a rough June. There was an awful lot of rain,” Mavodones said.

George Kerr, who owns the Surf 6 restaurant, the Grand Victorian retail complex and several rental properties in Old Orchard Beach, said, “We are weather-driven. When the sun shines, we all flourish.”

Kerr said business at his retail and restaurant locations picked up Wednesday, but the rainy weather has been hurting the local economy.

In the past, tourists would go to the Maine Mall in South Portland on a rainy day. Now they drive to Oxford to gamble at the Oxford Casino, Kerr said.

“Their entertainment dollars are being spent elsewhere,” he said.

For businesses like the Vacationland Bowling Center on Route 1 in Saco, gray skies outside mean good things are happening inside.

The recent rain has boosted business at the 32-lane candlepin bowling alley.

“It was mobbed (Tuesday). We must have had 1,000 people here,” said co-owner Claire Dube. “We like for it to rain at least once a week, for the sake of the gardens and for bowling.”

The bowling alley will be closed July 4th because it will be sunny.

Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco has been making the best of a bad weather situation.

The amusement park has had to close a few times because of rain and thunderstorms — it was closed Tuesday — but tries to make it up to customers whose visits are cut short by offering free day passes or pro-rated passes for future visits.

“Our guests never walk away (empty-handed),” said the park’s spokesman, Ed Hodgdon. “We don’t want to be a fair-weather park.”

Funtown’s parking lot was packed with cars Wednesday after the weather improved, Hodgdon said.

Meanwhile, Maine Turnpike officials were surprised when they started to see a significant spike in northbound traffic at the York toll plaza.

Turnpike spokesman Dan Morin said 17,500 vehicles moved through the northbound lanes of the York toll plaza on July 3, 2012.

On Wednesday, more than 25,000 vehicles passed through the plaza in the same time period, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I think we saw an increase on Wednesday due to the good weather forecast and to the Phish concert in Bangor,” said Morin. “We are not sure if this pattern will continue through the weekend. All it means is that on Sunday (when holiday traffic leaves Maine) there will be a mess in York.”

Bangor police said they expected more than 16,000 people to attend Wednesday night’s Phish concert at Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion — a venue within the city’s Waterfront Park.

Sgt. Jim Buckley said the concert venue’s capacity is 16,000 but police expected thousands of Phish fans to listen to the band outside the concert area.

A Phish concert a decade ago at the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone attracted more than 60,000 fans.

 

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com