December 28, 2012

Winter whooshes into Maine

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

and Scott Dolan
Staff Writer

Eric Hammond and Sage Parker expected to be at home on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas on Thursday, enjoying beach weather.

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John Pitcher clears his own driveway and also helps out his neighbors along Vesper Street in Portland on Thursday.

John Patriquin / Staff Photographer

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Police in Wells closed Webhannett Drive between Mile Road and the Crescent Beach area after surging waves from the nor’easter pushed debris into the road. Snow fell for more than 16 hours in areas of southern Maine.

Courtesy Wells Police Department

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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.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Christopher Geer, a sous chef at Vignola Cinque Terre, watches as snow falls Thursday at Dana and Wharf streets in Portland. Geer said the restaurant would be closing for the night Thursday because of the storm.

Gordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer

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Jason Eisenhuth of Portland demonstrates his "no hands" sledding ability at Portland's East End on Thursday. A winter storm dumped about a foot of snow on southern Maine, closing state offices, making roads slick and canceling many flights at the Portland International Jetport.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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Dooney shakes off the flakes while strolling with his people on Dana Street in Portland.

Derek Davis / Staff Photographer

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