A slow-moving ice storm caused numerous traffic accidents in southern Maine as temperatures dropped after sunset Sunday, and there could be more havoc Monday as freezing rain lingers over the state just two days before Christmas.
The ice storm knocked out power to thousands of Mainers, and more than 10,000 were still without power late Sunday night, most of them along the upper midcoast and in Down East Maine.
The National Weather Service forecast more freezing rain for Monday morning but said that by Tuesday and Wednesday, most of Maine will be basking in bright sunshine.
“Today didn’t quite turn out the way we thought it would,” said Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Gray. “These types of (weather) events are frustrating for us because they are very hard to forecast.”
Kistner was referring to predictions that Sunday morning would bring an ice storm to most of Maine. It did not immediately, especially in Portland and areas to the south, and many motorists took advantage of fairly good driving conditions during the relatively mild daylight hours to run errands or to finish their holiday shopping.
Everything changed rather suddenly after 4 p.m., when darkness fell and temperatures dropped well below freezing.
“It went from perfectly fine to very hectic in about 15 minutes,” said Andrew Flynn, a Scarborough police officer.
Flynn said his department was forced to shut down Running Hill Road – a major connecting artery to the Maine Mall in South Portland – for about an hour after icy conditions sent several cars spinning off the narrow two-lane road.
Icy roads caused the driver of a Poland Spring tractor-trailer water tanker to lose control on a curve on Route 113 in Baldwin. The vehicle traveled 360 feet into a ditch and rolled over. The accident was reported at 3:57 p.m. Sunday.
Capt. Donald Goulet of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said the driver, David Nelson, 46, had to be extricated from the wreckage and was transported to Maine Medical Center in Portland with non-life threatening injuries. Police shut down Route 113 for more than three hours.
The northbound lanes of the Maine Turnpike between Falmouth and Gray had to be closed for about 90 minutes Sunday night after the driver of a tractor-trailer truck skidded on “black ice” and jackknifed across both lanes around 4:20 p.m., said Fern Cloutier, a Maine State Police trooper. Cloutier said the driver, Porna Shai, 41, of Pennsylvania was not injured.
“There were accidents all over the turnpike,” said Cloutier, referring to the chaos that ensued after temperatures dipped and roads covered with moisture froze over.
Farther south in Kennebunk, northbound traffic on the turnpike came to a “standstill” after a three-car accident forced police to close one lane of traffic, said Dan Morin, a spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority. Morin noted that driving conditions were fine during the day, but he said that “once the temperatures dropped after sunset, it froze everything out there.”
Despite the dangerous driving conditions encountered by motorists Sunday night and power outages across the state, the weekend storm did not resemble the infamous “Great Ice Storm” of 1998.
While thin layers of ice could be found in many parts of Maine, Sunday’s weather event did not come close to the ice storm of Jan. 4, 1998, when 2 to 3 inches of ice froze over roads, weighed down trees and caused massive power outages for days and weeks.
“It’s not going to be anywhere on the scale of 1998 in terms of area impacted or amount of ice,” said Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.
By late Sunday afternoon, about a quarter-inch of ice covered some parts of the Augusta region. The Camden area had a similar amount of ice coverage, according to the National Weather Service.
Schwibs said the Augusta and Waterville areas could end up with about a half-inch of ice by storm’s end Monday, the Kennebec Journal reported.
Pedestrians were shuffling their feet and taking tiny steps in Portland’s Monument Square on Sunday afternoon.
Stanis Moody-Roberts, 24, who was cutting through the One Monument Way building to get to Free Street, said his friends advised him to put a tarp over his car to protect it from ice, but he didn’t think it would be necessary.
“It wasn’t even hard scraping the ice off the car this morning,” Moody-Roberts said. “We were lucky it wasn’t worse.”
In the midcoast towns of Nobleboro and Damariscotta, the storm covered roads and trees with a very thin layer of ice on Sunday and there were few cars on the roads.
In Brunswick, hardly any ice was reported, and the roads were heavily sanded.
In Bath, a thin coating of ice formed on sidewalks and roads early Sunday morning. It remained that way most of the morning even as the drizzle continued and temperatures hovered around freezing.
Farther north along the coast, the conditions were a lot harsher. Corey Bogel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Caribou, said Hancock and Washington counties received a half-inch of ice on Sunday. More than 7,800 Bangor Hydro Electric Co. customers were without power Sunday night, with most of those customers located in Hancock and Washington counties. Earlier in the day, Bangor Hydro reported that about 18,000 of its customers were without electricity.
By comparison, Central Maine Power Co. reported just over 3,088 outages late Sunday night, with the majority of those outages in Hancock and Waldo counties.
The storm brought snow to far northern Maine on Sunday.
Bogel said Aroostook County was blanketed with anywhere from 4 inches of snow to a high of 9 inches in the town of Sherman.
Five flights were canceled and one was delayed on Sunday at the Portland International Jetport.
The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning Sunday night that summed up the precipitation pattern in two words: “very complex.” The warning will remain in effect through noon Monday.
Kistner, the meteorologist, said most of Maine will see freezing rain Monday morning. That means that roads and sidewalks could freeze over again with as much as a three-tenths of an inch of ice forming in some areas.
It should be sunny but cold with highs around 18 degrees on Christmas.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: