Mainers prepared Friday to face the worst winter storm in several years, with a nor’easter barreling up the East Coast expected to dump more than a foot of snow and pack powerful wind gusts on Saturday. Residents are advised not to attempt to drive during the storm.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for the coast of Maine, saying 12 to 18 inches of snow are expected and winds could gust as high as 55 mph. The service said south central and southwestern Maine are likely to get the most snow and strongest winds.

Blizzard conditions are expected Saturday afternoon, and the weather service warned that travel during the storm could be “very difficult to impossible.”

The weather service issued winter storm warnings and watches for elsewhere in Maine and New Hampshire.

The blizzard warning is the first issued for the Portland area since 2018, said Michael Ekster, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Gray. To be categorized as a blizzard, a storm must have three or more hours of wind gusts over 35 mph and visibility of less than a quarter-mile.

Coastal areas of Maine likely will see snowfall rates of up to 3 inches per hour and gusts over 50 mph. That combination means near-zero visibility, Ekster said.

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“The combination of the wind and snow rates will make it pretty much impossible to drive around tomorrow afternoon,” he said. “Stay off the roads because you could easily get stuck.”

STORM TO WORSEN IN AFTERNOON

Snow is expected to spread across the region from south to north starting early Saturday, and the storm will worsen as the day goes on.

“Regardless of the snow amounts we do get, conditions are going to deteriorate very quickly, especially during the afternoon hours,” Ekster said.

Coastal areas, including Portland, are expected to get 12 to 18 inches of snow. Further inland, snowfall will be in the 6- to 12-inch range, the weather service said. Snow will taper off Saturday evening, but Ekster said the snow will continue to blow and drift Sunday morning.

Thai Tu of Scarborough shovels sand into a bucket on Friday in preparation for Saturday’s expected storm. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

There will be frigid temperatures during the storm, with most areas staying in the single digits to midteens. Wind chills will be very low.

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While the snow will be light and fluffy, Ekster said people should prepare for power outages. For those with a generator, he advised preparing the area where it will be located to make setting up during the storm easier.

Central Maine Power Co. will have 200 of its own line workers, 320 contractors and 124 tree crews positioned to deal with power outages that may hit. CMP  is also bringing in utility crews from New York, spokesperson Catharine Hartnett said, and positioning workers around the state in areas expected to bear the brunt of the storm.

She said crews will be available because the New York utilities owned by CMP’s parent company, Avangrid, aren’t expected to be hit hard by the storm.

Harnett said the forecasted fluffy snow normally doesn’t cause a lot of problems for CMP. But she said the strong winds could bring trees down on power lines.

CMP will try to respond quickly to any problems, she said, but it’s not safe for workers to go up in bucket trucks to fix wires when the winds exceed 40 mph. The utility will have crews on duty Saturday night, she said, to fix what they can as the winds drop.

JETPORT, METRO SUSPEND SERVICE

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A spokesperson said Gov. Janet Mills is staying in close contact with the Maine Emergency Management Agency to react to any problems that arise.

“With a serious storm expected to bring several inches of snow and strong winds across certain parts of Maine, I encourage people to be cautious and careful and to avoid driving if at all possible. If you do have to be on the road, it’s always important to be mindful of road crews and emergency responders who are working to keep us all safe,” the governor said in a statement. “As always, be sure to check in on your neighbors and loved ones to make sure they are OK and extend a helping hand to those who may need it.”

Greater Portland Metro announced that it is suspending all bus service on Saturday because of blizzard conditions, with service is expected to resume on Sunday. Bangor canceled its Community Connector Bus Service and ADA Paratransit Service for Saturday.

The Portland International Jetport said Friday that all its flights Saturday were canceled. Service at the airport is expected to resume by midmorning Sunday, jetport officials said.

The Amtrak Downeaster will reduce service on Saturday and Sunday due to storm impacts across New England. On Saturday, trains 696, 697, 698 and 699 are canceled. Train 690 on Sunday is canceled, but all other trains are expected to be running that day.

PORTLAND SCHOOLS REMOTE MONDAY

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Portland Public Schools announced Thursday that the district will hold remote classes on Monday because sidewalks and side streets could be difficult for pedestrians and buses to navigate following the weekend storm. A spokesperson for the district said the decision was made to ensure the safety of all students.

In Wells, a section of Webhannet Drive will be closed Saturday in anticipation of coastal damage. The seawall in that area was damaged during recent storms, and crews are temporarily shoring up the wall with large boulders in an attempt to stop further damage, according to Mark Dupuis, the town’s fire chief and emergency management director.

In South Portland, the Winterfest event scheduled for Saturday was canceled, and the community center and pool will be closed.

And most towns and cities are expected to ban on-street parking to allow plows to get through smoothly. Westbrook said it will ban on-street parking starting at noon Saturday, and Portland said its ban will go into effect at 10 p.m. Saturday.

The strongest winds and highest surge of the storm will occur during a lower tide cycle, which could cause some minor flooding and splash-over. No major coastal flooding is expected, the weather service said.

The Washington Post reported that winter storm watches covering more than 35 million people had already been issued by midday Thursday, with Maine added to the watch area Thursday afternoon. The watches cover major cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Hartford, Connecticut.

The Post said that two centers of cold air were headed across North America and expected to overlap Friday.

That strong, upper-level flow will intensify a coastal storm that formed off the Carolinas on Friday afternoon, and forecasters expect that storm will undergo “bombogenesis” – the term meteorologists use for a rapid, deep intensification of a storm that spreads heavy snow and packs powerful winds.

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