Vehicles travel southbound along the Maine Turnpike in Saco as the snow begins to fall Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Emergency management officials urged the public to avoid nonessential travel Saturday as a powerful storm swept through Maine and New Hampshire, dropping rain in southern Maine through the morning and a steady snowfall into the night.

“We urge citizens to travel only if necessary during the worst of the storm,” MEMA Director Pete Rogers said in a statement. “With temperatures hovering around freezing, road conditions are expected to be extremely slick.”

If Mainers must travel during the storm, officials recommend bringing an extra flashlight, food and water in case of emergency.

The National Weather Service office in Gray issued a winter storm warning late Saturday morning that predicted between 8 and 15 inches of snow in “south central, southwest and western Maine.” That includes parts of Oxford, Franklin, Somerset, York, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Kennebec and Waldo counties.

The weather service said the rain would turn to snow as the storm pulled in colder air, with some snow reaching the coast but the brunt of the snowfall expected inland.

A total of 166,706 Central Maine Power customers were without electricity as of 8:40 p.m. Saturday, up from 19,000 around 4 p.m. The outages were concentrated in Cumberland, Androscoggin, Kennebec and York counties, with 2,775 lacking power in Kittery alone. All 4,677 CMP customers in Harpswell had no electricity, and there were 7,055 without power in Portland.

Versant Power, which serves northern and eastern Maine, reported 11,779 customers without power shortly before 9 p.m.

More outages will come as gusts reach up to 40 mph, the weather service said.

“A heavy, wet snow will stick efficiently to trees which will likely cause downed branches and power outages,” the weather service said in its warning.

Snowfall had reached parts of York County, including Buxton and Limerick, by midafternoon. Coastal areas such as Portland still were seeing rain at that time, although snow had begun to fall in the city’s West End and by 9:15 p.m. just about an inch of slushy snow blanketed the city.  Through Maine’s interior, snow was falling at between 1 and 2 inches per hour, the weather service said at 3:42 p.m.

On Saturday afternoon, the weather service said it expected as much as 12-18 inches of snow for Waterville and also much of Franklin and Somerset counties. Snowfall was projected to drop off east of Waterville and through the midcoast region.

The city of Waterville extended its winter parking ban to 9 a.m. Sunday because of the storm.

For southern coastal cities such as Biddeford, Portland and Saco, the weather service predicted 5 to 12 inches of snow, with winds up to 45 mph blowing snow to create “near blizzard conditions.”

Bangor, Brewer, Orono and Old Town also can expect about 5-12 inches, while Lewiston could see between 7 and 14.

Because of snow, the speed limit on the Maine Turnpike was reduced to 45 mph from the New Hampshire state line to Augusta, officials said early Saturday afternoon.

In anticipation of the weekend storm, Concord Coach Lines canceled several bus trips scheduled Saturday and Sunday in Maine and New Hampshire. On Saturday, the bus company canceled southbound trips from Portland after 1:30 p.m., as well as northbound departures from Boston after 5 p.m. at Logan International Airport and 5:30 p.m. at South Station.

Northbound departures from Portland also stopped running after 12:15 p.m.

More than 300 workers were prepared to clear state roads, the Maine Department of Transportation said Friday. The department urged drivers to slow down, avoid using cruise control, and keep distance from other vehicles as the snow hits.

Amy Calder of the Morning Sentinel and Emily Duggan of the Kennebec Journal contributed to this report.

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