Heavy rain and potentially dangerous high winds are headed to the Maine coast on Monday, adding another potential problem to the state’s beleaguered electric utility companies.

Winds could gust over 50 mph Monday afternoon, which is also when rains are expected to be at their heaviest, causing concern of additional power outages. Coastal areas are predicted to be hardest hit. There is also concern the rain combined with snow melt could cause some river flooding.

On Sunday, repair crews were still scrambling to finish restoring power after a heavy snowstorm Thursday night knocked out electricity to nearly a third of the state.

“We are monitoring this storm closely and working to get additional crews in place through mutual assistance agreements,” said Peter Rogers, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

The weather double-whammy comes at a time when Maine, like the rest of the world, is dealing with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, making it imperative that hospitals and other health care facilities have full operational power.

MEMA said it will continue to work with utilities to prioritize power restoration for critical services such as hospitals and health care and food distribution facilities.

Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Gray, said Sunday that winds gusting up to 55 mph, particularly in midcoast Maine and in higher elevations in the mountains, could result in power outages Monday.

While the storm is expected to bring up to 1.5 inches of rain in some areas, only minor flooding is expected along the Kennebec River.

In northern Somerset County, where between 10 and 20 inches of snow remains on the ground, Tubbs said the water content in that snow is high, and the snowpack is ripe. Because the daytime temperatures are forecast to be in the 50s on Monday, significant snowmelt is expected to take place.

Crews from Asplundh Tree work Saturday to clear downed trees from the power lines along Augusta Road in Rome. A spring storm Thursday night knocked out power to more than 200,000 Mainers. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Sean Goodwin, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency, said Sunday that riverfront parking lots in Augusta and Hallowell may see some minor flooding, but the wind that’s coming may cause some havoc.

“There’s no heavy snow on the lines with this storm,” Goodwin said. “But we will have some trees that were cracked by the snow the other day.”

With heavy rains and strong winds forecast through the day Monday, Central Maine Power crews were scrambling on Sunday to finish restoring power across the state after a heavy snowstorm caused more than a quarter-million customers to lose power Thursday.

“What the storm on Monday does for us, it’s really being laser-focused on getting people restored before that storm hits,” said CMP President and CEO Doug Herling. “When the peak of (Monday’s) storm comes through they’re saying we could have winds around 40 miles per hour with gusts up to 50 and it’s unsafe to be up in a bucket in 40 mph winds.”

As of 11:09 p.m. Sunday, 17,491 CMP customers and 6,260 Emera Maine customers remained without power. CMP reported 3,544 outages in Waldo County, 5,141 in Penobscot, 3,973 in Somerset and 795 in Kennebec.

Because of Thursday’s snowstorm and the coronavirus, the electric utilities and state agencies are well staffed if Monday’s weather presents significant problems.

CMP, which saw approximately 260,000 total customers lose power because of the snowstorm, had 100 CMP crews, 439 contracted line crews and 223 tree crews, totaling about 1,500 people, working Sunday.

CMP does a predictive analysis of upcoming storms using a 1 to 5 rating system, with a category 1 storm being the most severe. Then the utility uses historical data to predict needed repair capacity.

“The preparation for the storm on Monday is not a concern,” Herling said. “That storm’s predicted to be a level 5 and with a level 5 we would normally bring in 50 to 100 support crews and we have 400 here now.”

Because of the coronavirus, MEMA is at full activation status for the first time since the October 2017 windstorm, said the agency’s public information officer, Susan Faloon.

“We are well prepared to deal with (Monday’s storm),” Faloon said. “But the infrastructure is already damaged. I live in Bangor and trees are just broken all over the place. Throw some extra wind and rain in there and that can add to the problem.”

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated repair efforts, Herling said. In order to maintain appropriate social distancing, a two-person bucket truck crew now must drive two separate vehicles to a repair site. CMP said it was working hard to restore power in recognition of customers’ increased need for service.

In response to financial pressures caused by the pandemic, CMP recently announced it will suspend fees for late payment and reconnection, as well as extend eligibility protections to customers participating in certain payment plans.

Staff Writer Rob Wolfe and Kennebec Journal reporter Jessica Lowell contributed to this story.

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