December 15, 2013

First major storm of the season hits Maine

The snowstorm could drop up to 18 inches in coastal areas in the south before it moves out Sunday afternoon, prompting Portland and other cities to activate parking restrictions.

By Scott Dolan sdolan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

As a powerful coastal snowstorm swept into southern Maine on Saturday evening, road-plowing crews prepared to struggle with up to an inch of snowfall an hour, and cities and towns imposed overnight parking bans.

click image to enlarge

Patricia Gorham of Saco reacts to the cold air Friday as she waits for her ride to pick her up outside the Merrill Auditorium. A winter storm was expected late Saturday followed by more cold temperatures.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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The swift-moving storm was expected to drop 18 inches of snow in some areas, with the National Weather Service in Gray forecasting 10 to 14 inches throughout the southeastern two-thirds of the state before the storm departs Sunday afternoon.

“It will be blowing and drifting along the coast,” said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray.

The first big snowstorm of the season was expected to hit hardest just inland from the coast in southern Maine, where wind gusts could reach 30 mph.

“If you don’t have to travel, I would advise against it,” said Curtis.

The Maine Turnpike Authority had all 80 of its trucks and 90 crew members ready, but even with plow routes as short as 45 to 50 minutes, that could mean more white roads than black until the rate of snowfall slows, according to spokesman Dan Morin.

“By the time they are completing their routes, there is already an inch or so of snow where they started their routes,” Morin said.

That meant less vital roads throughout the state would have much worse road conditions, considering the Maine Turnpike Authority has more equipment per mile of roadway than any municipality, he said.

“If we don’t have short enough routes to keep the road clear, you can imagine what roads would be like elsewhere,” Morin said.

As of 10 p.m. Saturday, the Maine Turnpike Authority had reported several snow-related crashes. Multiple vehicles slid off the turnpike between Wells and Biddeford, with no reported traffic delays. One vehicle struck a guardrail while headed north in Saco, but the accident was quickly cleared.

Two factors worked in favor of snow removal crews Saturday night. The storm began on a weekend overnight when far fewer motorists would be out than during the daytime on a weekday and the conditions were cold enough that light snow would blow off the roadway instead of melting and accumulating, he said.

The Maine Turnpike Authority also reduced speed limits shortly after 9 p.m. for the entire length of the turnpike, from Kittery to Augusta.

Although the National Weather Service forecast 10 to 14 inches of snow throughout most of the state, it warned that along the coast that could turn to a mix of rain or sleet at some point Sunday afternoon.

The mountains to the north and west are expected to get about 8 to 10 inches. In northern areas, such as Caribou, snow was not expected until 2 a.m., with an accumulation of 5 to 9 inches.

The fast-moving storm was expected to head out of the state from south to north Sunday afternoon.
Temperatures are expected to reach into the mid-20s in parts of Maine on Sunday, with the sun returning on Monday and temperatures in the low 20s.

As the storm approached Saturday night, many cities and towns in the southern part of the state and along the coast began imposing overnight parking bans in anticipation of snow removal efforts.
Municipalities that announced parking bans included Auburn, Biddeford, Brunswick, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Freeport, Kennebunkport, Kittery, Lewiston, Lisbon, Old Orchard Beach, Portland, Saco, Sanford, Scarborough, Springvale, Topsham, Westbrook and Windham. The starting and ending times of the parking bans, in which violators face fines and towing fees, varied from community to community.

By early afternoon Saturday, flights into Portland from New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and other points south were being canceled. By about 8 p.m. Saturday, only four of the still-scheduled flights into Portland had not yet arrived at the Portland International Jetport.

The jetport had no scheduled flights departing Saturday night. Departures were scheduled to resume Sunday at 6 a.m., though some cancellations were already being reported on Saturday night.
None of Sunday’s scheduled arrivals had been canceled by Saturday night, according to the jetport’s website.

Anni Sanford, who answers questions at the jetport’s information counter, said travelers should check with their airlines about cancellations.

At resorts and ski towns in northern New England, the snow was a welcome kickoff for the winter season.

“We have been watching (the forecast) since people first started talking about it on Monday or Tuesday,” said Ethan Austin, spokesman for the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley. “Right now it’s setting up pretty well for us, so we’re pretty psyched.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at:

sdolan@pressherald.com

Twitter: @scottddolan

Beth Quimby can be reached at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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