The blizzard heading our way is so big and powerful that Gov. John Baldacci declared a state of emergency this afternoon, hours before the first snowflakes began falling in Maine.

Baldacci also ordered that state government shut down on Monday in an effort to protect state employee commuters from the heavy snow, high winds and whiteouts expected to accompany the storm.

The state of emergency was called after the governor and the Maine Emergency Management Agency held a conference call with most of the agencies that will be called upon to combat the storm.

“The National Weather Service is warning of extremely dangerous conditions,” the governor said. “The best advice is to avoid all unnecessary travel, to stay off the roads, and allow road crews and emergency responders to do their work.”

A blizzard warning remained in effect tonight.

According to the National Weather Service in Gray, the storm will blanket all of Maine with snow, with the heaviest accumulations expected along the coast.

“It’s going to impact the entire state and all of New Hampshire,” said Steve Capriola, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Capriola is expecting between 12 and 18 inches of snow to accumulate.

The storm will bring high winds and gusts reaching up to 45 miles per hour, Capriola said.
There could be power outages.

Central Maine Power Co. spokesman John Carroll said the utility company is as prepared as it will ever be to respond. Crews are standing by.

“We’ve known this storm was coming for a while,” Carroll said.

Carroll said the weight and moisture content of the snow will determine the severity and extent of outages. Heavy, wet snow tends to cause branches to fall on power lines.

In Portland, the city declared a citywide parking ban that will go into effect at 10  tonight.
Spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the ban will remain in effect through 6 a.m. Monday.

Although several inbound flights from Philadelphia and New York were canceled today, Portland International Jetport Director Paul Bradbury said he expects Portland’s airport to remain open for business tonight and Monday.

Snow started falling around New York City late this morning, by which time nearly 1,000 flights out of the region’s three major airports had been canceled in anticipation of the storm. More cancellations were expected.

“The problem is going to be the other airports, not us,” Bradbury said. However, he added that travelers should check their flights to make sure they are on time.

Amtrak canceled train service from New York to Maine and from Boston to Portland this evening, after doing the same earlier for several trains in Virginia.

Bus companies also canceled routes up and down the East Coast, affecting thousands of travelers.

Travel misery began a day earlier in parts of the South, which was hit with a white Christmas for the record books. Columbia, S.C., had its first significant Christmas snow since weather records were first kept in 1887. Atlanta had just over an inch of snow – the first measurable accumulation on Christmas Day since the 1880s.