Steve Craig’s body may be in February, but his mind is on June.
And that’s not only because he’s thinking of warmer weather. The four snow days his two children’s Portland schools have had so far this winter are threatening to extend the school year and bump up against their summer camp plans. And the snowstorm that blew into southern Maine on Thursday was increasing the odds of makeup school days.
The snowstorm intensified after dusk, dumping between 8 and 12 inches of snow over most of Maine, sending dozens of cars sliding off roads, knocking out power to thousands of homes, and with the threat of overnight sleet and rain, the storm could pose driving challenges during the Friday morning commute.
Inland and northern mountain areas could get more than a foot of snow, according to Chris Kimble, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.
The weather service said a winter storm warning will remain in effect through 9 a.m. Friday – about the time that the storm is expected to begin winding down.
By Friday afternoon, the skies will begin to clear and temperatures will climb into the 30s, Kimble said.
But Thursday night proved to be the worst part of the storm.
By 7 p.m., snow was beginning to mix with sleet in Portland and coastal areas, Kimble said. That wintry mix was expected to include some rain after midnight.
State troopers responded to 25 accidents – most of them slide-offs – between 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on the Maine Turnpike and Interstate 295 and were reporting “white-out” conditions by 8 p.m., a dispatcher said.
By 9:30 p.m., Portland had received 8 inches of snow. The weather service said Casco got 10 inches, Bridgton 8.2 inches, Yarmouth 8 inches, Westbrook 7 inches, Saco 7.2 inches, and Sanford 6.8 inches. Kimble said the snow will resume Friday morning, with the potential for another 1 to 3 inches of accumulation.
As the snow mixed with sleet Thursday night, power outages increased significantly.
More than 600 Central Maine Power Co. customers were without electricity Thursday night, with most of those customers in York and Androscoggin counties.
More than 4,300 customers of Emera Maine – formerly known as Bangor Hydro Electric – were without power Thursday night. Nearly all of those customers live in the Hancock County towns of Bar Harbor, Seal Cove and Southwest Harbor.
The storm was so severe that the company hired to dredge Portland Harbor decided to cancel its operations Thursday because of rough seas.
The storm left havoc in its wake as it moved up the East Coast, from layers of ice coating Southern cities to heavy snow blanketing the mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
Some local schools were closed Thursday, and more closures were possible Friday.
Dozens of flight cancellations stranded travelers and left the Portland International Jetport a ghost town at midday Thursday.
Amtrak canceled some of its trains and modified the schedules for others in the Northeast and the South.
Cities including Portland and Westbrook imposed on-street parking bans for Thursday night into Friday morning.
Speed limits were reduced Thursday to 45 mph on the entire length of the Maine Turnpike and Interstate 295 because of the snow.
Gorham police said weather was a factor in a crash on the Bernard P. Rines Highway late Thursday morning, when Justin L. Oullette, 19, of Biddeford, lost control of his minivan and crossed over the center line into the path of a car driven by David P. Russell, 59, of Standish. Police said Oullette was partially thrown from the minivan and was at Maine Medical Center in Portland in critical condition. Russell was also taken to Maine Med with non-life-threatening injuries.
The storm was expected to bring Portland’s season snowfall total to about 68 inches. That’s the same total as this time last year, although last year’s total included a blizzard and record 32-inch snowfall.
Normal snowfall in Portland for the season through Feb. 12 is 39 inches.
Meteorologist Jim Brown said the single-season record of 141.5 inches set in 1970-71 is probably safe, but the latest storm was sure to push Portland over the average snowfall for an entire winter – 61 inches.
Portland did not cancel school for the day Thursday, but like many districts in southern Maine, sent students home early to avoid the heaviest bands of snow. With a forecast of a messy mix of 7 to 9 inches of snow on the way, however, Friday might be the city’s fifth snow day of the year.
Steve Craig feared that, although Portland’s school year was scheduled to end June 18, extra days to make up for snow closures could push school into the middle of the next week, when his kids are scheduled to start overnight camp.
“They’ve gone from saying, ‘Yay, a snow day,’ to ‘Oh, no, not another snow day,’ ” Craig said as he waited outside Lincoln Middle School to pick up one of his kids shortly before noon Thursday.
If the winter continues the way it’s been going, more kids – and certainly their parents – might share that sentiment.
Most districts have only missed three or four days this year, and most towns build five snow days into their calendars. But it won’t be hard to exceed that number with half of February and all of March yet to come. And snowstorms in April and even May aren’t unprecedented.
Diane Boucher, director of finance and operations for School Administrative District 15, which includes Gray and New Gloucester, said rather than having the school year run almost into July, the common remedy in years past has been to cut back on April’s week-long spring break or start having school on some Saturdays.
“Parents don’t like when we do that,” she conceded.
Travelers had different reasons to fret about the latest storm.
At the nearly empty Portland International Jetport, workers pulled out floor-cleaning machines to run on vacant corridors and Transportation Security Administration workers milled around with no one to search.
Elizabeth Owens and Douglass Feherty of Brunswick were trying to make new arrangements after their United flight was canceled Friday. They were trying to get to upstate New York to see their son at St. Lawrence University.
“We were on the phone this morning for hours on hold, so we figured we might as well come down and see what we could work out,” Owens said.
The airline put them on an Air Canada flight out of Boston to Montreal, she said, and the two headed next to the Portland Transportation Center to get on a bus for Logan International Airport.
Others were willing to wait until Friday to arrange flights, especially since almost no planes were flying Thursday.
Travelers should expect a packed airport Friday. Not only is it a getaway day for families with winter vacation plans, but the number of travelers will jump because of Thursday’s canceled flights.
Some travelers are staying close to the airport to be among the first in line.
“We’re booked up,” said Alison Frank, front office manager for the Embassy Suites in Portland, which is adjacent to the airport. “A lot of people are trying to get out and they’re making arrangements.”
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]