Activities across Maine nearly ground to a halt Thursday in the face of an intense nor’easter.
The National Weather Service has warned travelers to prepare for more than a foot of snow, accompanied by high winds and coastal flooding. Sub-zero temperatures are also expected after midnight Friday.
Most Mainers heeded calls from the state Department of Transportation to stay home so plow crews can clean up the roads. Trucks were already out in force in southern Maine when Susan Faloon of the Maine Emergency Management Agency conducted her morning assessment of the massive weather system.
“As we continue to have conversations with the National Weather Service, the forecast seems to be getting worse and worse,” she said.
As government agencies and schools closed, public safety officials focused on highway and travel conditions that deteriorated by noon. But even as emergency protocols were put into place, Faloon was thinking about the next 48 hours.
“Of course the big concern is going to be the travel conditions and then the drifting snow, which is going to continue even after the snowstorm stops. The travel conditions will be probably be pretty bad and visibility will be poor,” she said.
Several communities, including Freeport, Oxford and Augusta, set up warming centers where those without power could find relief from the cold and snow or simply charge their cellphones. In Bangor, city manager Cathy Conlow said four warming areas are open.
“In anticipation of the potential that we’re going to have power outages and perhaps water main breaks, heating difficulties for people, we will evaluate tomorrow whether we open an overnight shelter,” she said. “If that’s the case, it’ll either be over to the Brewer Community Center, but we are looking right now at the parks and recreation center down on lower Main Street.”
State highway crews have struggled during the past two winter seasons to find enough local drivers to operate snow removal equipment throughout the state. Municipalities have had better luck in maintaining an adequate workforce, but successive storms are taking their toll, said Lewiston Director of Public Works Dave Jones.
“We had five storms in December that were plowable storms,” Jones said. “We normally only have two, maybe — something like that? So it’s started out pretty aggressive.”
When conditions allow, state and municipal snow removal crews will begin spreading salt and sand, large quantities of which were secured by most departments during the summer and fall. Most communities are reportedly on track with their salt and sand stockpiles, but Chris Stewart, Houlton’s public works director, said his town’s 4,000 cubic yards of sand is down about 40 percent, and that the amount of snow doesn’t make much difference.
“One- and two-inch storms use as much as this storm coming right here,” he said. “It takes the same amount to treat, so if I’m going to get a storm, I’d rather get a foot than I would an inch or two inches, because it uses the same amount of product to treat it.”
If high wind and heavy snow isn’t enough, Portland residents have had to deal with a storm surge in several low-lying areas of the city as the result of the convergence of the storm and an astronomical high tide.
The storm is expected to finally leave the state Friday, but weather services say difficult travel conditions posed by cold temperatures will likely continue through the weekend.