A nasty stretch of winter weather is heading into the state this weekend and the timing of the storms could not have been worse.

In Maine, the storm system could disrupt last-minute shopping and travel plans, especially if roads and highways are covered with ice on Saturday.

AAA is predicting that a record number of Americans will travel over the Christmas holiday weekend – more than 107 million people by plane, train or car between Dec. 23 and Jan. 1.

The National Weather Service Office in Gray said Thursday that Maine could see three separate storms this weekend, with the first, a snowstorm, set to arrive Friday morning.

The second storm – a mix of snow, freezing rain and sleet – will start Saturday morning. There is potential for a third snowstorm on Monday, Christmas Day, but forecasters are cautioning that storm may track out to sea. In any event, the state needs to be ready for a messy weekend of weather.

Friday’s snowstorm in Portland should begin around 9 a.m. By nightfall, Portland could see accumulations of 4-6 inches.

The forecast caused several school departments in Greater Portland – including Brunswick, Freeport, Yarmouth, and Falmouth – to announce that Friday will be an early release day. Early dismissal on those districts means that most students will be sent home between 11 a.m. and 12 noon.

For other school departments, such as Scarborough and Westbrook, the storm will have no impact because students and teachers’ Christmas vacation week started Friday.

In addition, a few cities and towns are putting parking bans into effect Friday, including Lewiston and Falmouth.

“We are probably going to see freezing rain in the Portland area on Saturday,” James Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Thursday evening. “It’s not going to be any fun out there.”

Brown said the freezing rain has the potential to make travel conditions treacherous. The freezing rain should start falling in Portland around 9 a.m. Saturday and probably won’t let up until the afternoon at the earliest.

Sunday should provide Mainers with a break in the stormy weather pattern, but there is potential for more snow on Christmas. Brown said that people shouldn’t get overly concerned about that storm since that system may head out to sea.

Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones said the city’s crews are ready for whatever the storm system brings.

“We’re going to (take care) of some of the shoulders on the country roads, but a lot of the roads with ice we got treated and melted,” Jones said. “Freezing rain is always the worst.”

Jones hoped this wouldn’t happen on a holiday weekend so workers wouldn’t miss time with their families, but she said they’ll make adjustments and make sure people can still do that.

“Working on the holiday is always hard,” she said. “We’ll be trying to make sure our guys get to spend quality time with their families.”

It doesn’t look like any part of Maine will escape the storm systems heading our way.

Chris Kimble, another meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, expected 3 to 6 inches of snow to fall over central Maine, with temperatures in the teens throughout the day Friday. He said there is some uncertainty about the expected amount of snowfall because “it will be particularly fluffy.”

“The higher snowfall totals will happen south of Augusta,” Kimble said. “You’ll probably see a break in the snow late Friday into Saturday before the freezing rain begins.”

Jackman in northern Maine will get 1-2 inches of snow while Belfast in midcoast Maine was expected to see 3-4 inches. Sanford and areas of York County might see the heaviest snowfall, with 6-8 inches forecast.

Holiday shoppers were not waiting for the weather to take a turn for the worse.

Becky Thompkins of Brunswick was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at Old Navy and Kohl’s on Thursday in Augusta because she didn’t want to have to be out in the elements this weekend. She was looking for gifts for her parents, her husband and one more thing for her 4-year-old daughter.

“The weather isn’t going to be great, and I’d rather not take the chance in driving in either snow or freezing rain this weekend, especially before Christmas,” Thompkins said. “I’ll be happy to get everything done today and be home with family this weekend and not on the roads.”

The two days before Christmas are typically busy shopping days, especially when they fall on a weekend. The anticipated storm might cause business owners to lower their expectations of how much customer traffic they might get.

Ellyne Fleshner, the director of regional marketing for the Marketplace at Augusta, said winter storms aren’t a surprise to shoppers that frequent the many stores and restaurants there.

“Although the roads may be covered in ice and snow, there is nothing that will stop our shoppers from getting where they need to go,” Fleshner said. “Their determination will have all shopping complete no matter what the weather.”

Amy Powers, store manager for Old Navy, and L.T. Sierra, the manager at Day’s Jewelers, said they don’t expect the weather to hurt their business this weekend.

“Snow what? Our customers aren’t afraid of any snow,” Sierra said. “This is Maine, and Mainers are out and about in all weather.”

Reactions to the weather forecast Thursday in Lewiston ranged from panic to indifference and even to exhilaration.

“I refuse to shop until the snow is flying and stress is in the air,” said Laurie-Anne Ouellette of Lewiston. “Perfect days to shop – nobody will be out.”

Gail Shelley of Auburn said she is done with her Christmas shopping, but the weather was wreaking havoc with her holiday travel plans.

Others said they plan to put off all things Christmas until early Sunday – Christmas Eve – when there is expected to be a brief pause between nasty weather events.

Freezing rain and air travel aren’t a good mix, as the slick conditions on the ground make for tricky take-offs and landings. As of 9:30 p.m. Thursday, no flights scheduled for Friday had been delayed or canceled at Portland International Jetport, though that is expected to change once the weather worsens Friday afternoon.

Andy Smart, of Waterville, was buying headphones at Best Buy in Augusta for his planned Saturday morning flight to New York City. With freezing rain expected, he spent several hours trying to make other arrangements. He’s checked into moving his flight to Friday or taking Amtrak, but with the unpredictable weather, he feels stuck.

“It’s always a challenge to travel in cold-weather states during the winter because you just don’t really know what the conditions will be when you’re supposed to leave,” Smart said. “I’ll do my best to be smart and safe and make sure I can get to be with my family come Sunday.”

For the season, Portland has had a foot of snow, which is about 5 inches above normal. Kimble said it’s typical during each winter to have several storms that come back-to-back, and there is usually a break for a few weeks to a month when there’s not much activity. Portland is above normal now, he said, but it doesn’t mean that’ll be the case next month.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jason Pafundi and Sun Journal Staff Writer Mark LaFlamme contributed to this report.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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