The first plowable snow storm for southern Maine arrived Saturday afternoon, and the National Weather Service in Gray cautions that driving will be difficult on Sunday morning.

An official winter storm warning is in effect from 1 p.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Sunday, but NWS meteorologist Greg Cornwall correctly forecasted that snow wouldn’t start falling in southern Maine until after 2 p.m. By 2:30 p.m. a light snow had begun.

Relatively heavy snow was expected with total accumulations between 4 and 7 inches in southern and western Maine. The National Weather Service cautions that driving could be “very difficult” because of low visibility and snow covered roads later tonight and into early Sunday morning. The forecast caused Concord Coach Lines to cancel some of its bus service in Maine and New Hampshire.

The Maine Turnpike reduced speeds to 45 miles per hour Saturday afternoon due to snow. By early evening, about 2 inches was on the ground in Cape Elizabeth, 2.7 inches northwest of Hollis and just under an inch in Shapleigh.

“We are expecting snowfall to pick up through the evening and come to a head midnight and early overnight,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Maura Casey.

The approaching weather created a flurry of activity for many retailers.

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Several tire stores, including Town Fair Tire in South Portland and Sullivan tire in Westbrook, were slammed with customers looking to have snow tires put on their vehicles. A VIP store worker in Westbrook said their phones were ringing off the hook and they couldn’t take on any more customers Saturday. They advised drivers to schedule appointments to have snow tires put on.

At Gorham Bike and Ski, sales associate Trisha Rose said the snow was good for business. “It’s been a really warm fall, so we’ve had a slow start. With snow in the forecast, we’ve seen a huge increase (in sales). We’ve sold a lot of cross-country skis today, a lot of ski packages. The snow makes people excited to get outside. It’s good energy today.”

Excitement was building at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, too. If the storm produces 8 inches of snow, trails will open, said Matt Sabasteanski, the outdoor recreation director at Pineland.

“We do cross country skiing, snow shoeing, fat biking. We do all of it,” he said Saturday. But not yet this season. “Hopefully we will be able to open some of our trails. We love to see people out and doing something in the wintertime. Nobody likes cold without a little bit of snow to recreate in.”

The City of Portland is not declaring an official parking ban Saturday, Dec. 18, but is seeking voluntary compliance by asking residents to park off street to allow plow crews the ability to clear streets overnight and avoid an official parking ban on Sunday evening.
The Spring Street parking garage will offer its $3 snow ban parking rate overnight (in after 5 p.m., out by 8 a.m.) to help those who do wish to park off street. Anyone who does park in snow ban lots Saturday night will need to move their cars Sunday morning so crews can get those lots cleared.

The city is asking for voluntary compliance instead of a parking ban because it’s the first storm of the season and there wasn’t any snow on the ground before Saturday, said Jessica Grondin, spokesperson for the city. “If enough people comply, we may not need to call an official parking ban” Sunday night.

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Parking bans were announced Saturday in a number of municipalities from Sanford to Brunswick and Lewiston-Auburn.

The most uncertainty of the storm is along the southern coast of Maine and southern New Hampshire. Warmer temperatures moving in overnight may cause sleet or rain to mix which means snow in those areas could be wet and heavy. Interior Maine and higher elevations should receive lighter, fluffier snow, according to the National Weather Service.

Saturday’s snow is late for a typical winter season, Cornwall said. “We are behind the usual bell curve. For the season we are 8 inches below normal.” A year ago there was 19 inches of snow on the ground at this time. “That’s a pretty big difference.”

But within a week of that storm rain came and washed the snow away, giving much of Maine a brown Christmas.

There’s a better chance for a white Christmas this year, Cornwall said. “Temperatures are supposed to be fairly cold for the remainder of the week, so a lot of the snow should be able to stick around especially inland away from the coast.”

Another system could bring flurries to the mountains and foothills Sunday night, Cornwall said. “And there’s the potential for snow showers Wednesday into Thursday.”

Maine has been warm so far this winter. Typically December’s highs and lows are in the 20s overnight and 30s to low 40s during the day. “On Friday it got to 53 for a high, on Sunday (Dec. 12) it got to 57,” Cornwall said.

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