Never a leisurely affair, last-minute Christmas shopping came with long lines and a heightened sense of urgency for Mainers who ventured out into Friday’s snowstorm to beat the ice storm due Saturday morning.

All the rushing about was prompted by forecasts of freezing rain that was expected to begin around 9 a.m. Saturday, coating southern and central Maine with as much as one-third of an inch of ice that is likely to cause power outages, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Gray.

By Friday morning, the checkout line in the Target store in South Portland stretched longer than the length of the store. Carts were filled with last-minute Christmas items, some more full than others. Stocking stuffers. Wrapping paper and bows. Gifts and gift cards, too.

Josh Beatty of Falmouth was among the dozens of people waiting in line at Target. His cart was full of gifts but he wasn’t that worried about the wait. It was the only stop he had to make Friday.

“I was going to come out today anyway because I had today off,” he said. “But, this is a little crazy.”

The same dynamic played out elsewhere. Commercial Street in Portland was like a parking lot by noon, as shoppers headed into specialty shops like Harbor Fish and LeRoux Kitchen. At the Maine Mall, parking spots were difficult to find. Inside, shoppers moved quickly to find what they came to get. At grocery stores, every checkout line was open and lines extended into food aisles. Facebook lit up with advice about which Hannaford store wasn’t too crowded and which ones were already out of rosemary and thyme.

Dozens of schools released students early because of the storm, and that ramped up the urgency to get everything done before the kids came home to start their Christmas break.

Other parents had their kids in tow. Behind Beatty in line at Target, a mother handed her cellphone to her restless young daughter to watch a video.

“Survival mode,” the mom said, looking wide-eyed at the line ahead of her.

Early Friday afternoon in Freeport, hordes of people flooded shops and stores as snow began to pile up and stick to the roads. Customers and employees at Shaw’s, where people were waiting in a line long enough for ice cream to melt, said they had never seen anything like this.

Traffic, already heavy, had slowed everywhere across southern Maine by midday. The Maine Turnpike speed limit was reduced to 45 mph. On I-295, the speed limit was dropped to 40 mph and afternoon traffic was thick, especially southbound. Shortly after 2 p.m., a disabled plow truck was blocking traffic near Exit 17 in Yarmouth. In New Gloucester, a dump truck hauling an excavator slid off the road. A two-car crash on the turnpike northbound between Biddeford and Saco at 5 p.m. was cleared in about 30 minutes.

Parking bans also were beginning to mount by noon Friday. The city of Portland issued a ban beginning at 10 p.m. and lasting through 6 a.m. Saturday. Scarborough also has scheduled a ban. Other communities followed. Westbrook City Hall planned to close an hour early.

Forecasters expected up to 6 inches of snow to fall across most of Maine on Friday. By Saturday morning, that snow would end and then turn to freezing rain, which could make driving especially treacherous.

Justin Arnott, a meteorologist with the weather service, agreed that the timing of the storm is not ideal.

“This is why some people go south in the winter, right,” he said.

The worst spot for significant ice Saturday, Arnott said, is inland York County, up through Lewiston/Auburn and to Augusta. North of that will see more snow. South and east of that will see more rain than freezing rain. The storm will last most of Saturday.

Arnott said the ice will be heavy enough to bring down tree limbs and cause power outages. Central Maine Power Co. officials said crews are on standby and the company has been in touch with the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

Jill Keith, in line at the Hannaford near the mall, said she didn’t want to risk driving Saturday, and had too much to do at home Sunday, so she decided to get her Christmas grocery shopping done Friday.

“It’s hard because I hadn’t planned everything out yet, so I’m going to be winging it,” she said.

At Portland International Jetport, plows were out on the runways throughout the day. Four American Airlines flights from Philadelphia were canceled, but most flights were arriving and departing on time with only minimal delays. Several flights early Saturday already had been canceled by late Friday afternoon, all of them American, and at least one delay was already listed.

Zach Sundquist, assistant airport director, didn’t know the reason for those cancellations – there was no snow in Philadelphia on Friday – but “if they can’t get here they can’t leave in the morning,” he said.

As for the pending ice storm Saturday, Sundquist was optimistic about the airport remaining open.

“We’re lucky to have a lot of tools in our tool box,” Sundquist said, including deicing chemicals. “That is ready to go if needed.”

After a reprieve Sunday, Arnott said another storm is likely to hit Christmas Day.

“It looks like it has the potential to be a decent storm,” he said. “Certainly a plowable amount, maybe even 6 inches in some spots.”

Forecasters typically don’t issue guarantees, but a white Christmas? Meteorologists with the weather service confirmed that Maine will have one.

Staff Writer Mary Pols contributed to this report.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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