Area police were kept busy Wednesday when a wintry mix of snow, rain and icy precipitation made for hazardous road conditions and contributed to a rash of accidents.
The speed limit on the Maine Turnpike was lowered to 45 mph, and a winter weather advisory remained in effect for most of Maine. The National Weather Service issued an upgraded winter storm warning for the western mountains and foothills.
Even those in the air couldn’t escape. A Business Express commuter flight that originated in Bangor and stopped in Portland was struck by lightning from a rare winter thunderstorm about 9 a.m. but was able to land safely at Boston’s Logan International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration stated.
“I was talking to the person next to me and we saw a big flash outside the window. And that’ll scare you,” said a shaken Wallace Berrey, one of the 19 passengers aboard the Saab 340, which also carried three crew members.
Among the ground mishaps in eastern Maine was a two-car accident near the Bennoch Road Cemetery in Orono at 5:15 p.m.
According to Officer Bob Bryant of Orono Public Safety, a Jeep Cherokee driven by David Speirs, 21, of Cumberland, was heading east when it slid into the opposite travel lane and collided head-on with a four-door Buick, driven by Eric Chambers, 38, of East Corinth. Both were taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Speirs with a minor head injury and Chambers with chest injuries.
Details were unavailable on their conditions. Police said both men were wearing seat belts and both cars were demolished.
Three people were injured when two vehicles collided about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on snow-covered Route 15 in Monson.
Richard Eaton, 54, of Madison, Conn., was traveling south when he lost control of his vehicle. The car spun sideways into the path of a northbound vehicle driven by Andre Cushing, 64, of Bangor, according to Investigator Jamie Kane of the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department.
Kane said when the right tires on Eaton’s vehicle dropped off the pavement and into a ditch, he overcompensated and lost control of his 1991 Honda Accord. The Accord struck Cushing’s 1990 Chevrolet Caprice.
Eaton’s passenger, his wife, Jane, 50, was taken to Mayo Regional Hospital. She was treated and later released. Richard Eaton, who complained of chest pain, also was treated at the hospital and then released, according to Kane.
Andre Cushing was not injured, but his wife, Jane, 66, was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, where she was listed in stable condition. Kane said Jane Cushing was ejected from the vehicle because the passenger door was crushed upon impact.
All involved in the accident were wearing seat belts, Kane reported.
Kane said Eaton’s vehicle was demolished and estimated damage to Cushing’s vehicle at $1,500.
Route 15 just north of Kenduskeag Village was the site of another collision around 2:45 p.m., in which two people were sent to the hospital with minor injuries.
A 1987 Pontiac Grand Am driven by Nathalie Trafton, 58, of East Corinth was headed north when snowy road conditions caused her to veer into the southbound lane, striking head-on a Chevy pickup driven by Ronald Desrosiers, 39, of Newburgh.
Trafton and one of her two passengers, Donna Drisko, 80, of East Corinth, were taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, complaining of leg pain. The third passenger, Karen Pineo, 55, of East Corinth, apparently was not hurt.
State Trooper Kyle Willette said both cars were traveling at a “fairly low speed” and that everyone was wearing seat belts. Both cars were totaled, he said.
The storm brought slippery and slushy driving to Knox County but no serious accidents. Although the Rockland, Thomaston, Camden and Rockport police departments were pressed into storm-related duty on their streets and highways, the ditched vehicles and spin-outs produced no injuries.
In Camden, traffic was slowed on Spring Brook Hill on Route 1 for a while around 3 p.m. when a tractor-trailer found it difficult to make the grade in the slush.
In Rockland, a few vehicles wound up in ditches around the city and near Chickawaukie Lake. No injuries were reported.
The Knox County Sheriff’s Department responded to several calls when the morning’s snow turned to slush. Accidents were reported in Hope, Owls Head and Warren, but none was serious.
In Hancock County, freezing rain started to fall in the early afternoon and accidents started to pile up a few hours later, as an inch-thick layer of slush coated roads.
While the Ellsworth police reported no accidents Wednesday afternoon, the Sheriff’s Department handled one in Hancock and two on Route 9. State police responded to cars sliding off the road in Blue Hill, Orland and Franklin.
In Machias, a mix of sleet and freezing rain began falling midafternoon but changed to rain within an hour. As temperatures fell, some roads became slick, but only one minor accident was reported as of 5 p.m., according to the Washington County Regional Communications Center.
Petty Officer Jim Fortier, the duty officer for Coast Guard Group Southwest Harbor, said things were quiet because most fishermen played it safe and stayed inshore Wednesday.
Storm warnings were in effect, Fortier said, with visibility reduced to less than a mile, 12- to 18-foot seas, and winds at 40 to 50 knots.
Meanwhile, a total snowfall of 6 to 12 inches was predicted for Oxford, Franklin and central and southern Somerset counties.
Elsewhere, forecasts called for 2 to 4 inches in many inland sections and less than 2 inches along the coast in southwestern Maine. Eastern Maine, where the precipitation was just beginning by midday, prepared for 1 to 3 inches of snow and sleet.
Because most schools were already closed for the midwinter vacation, officials did not have to grapple with whether to cancel classes because of the weather.
The storm was blamed on a moist onshore flow associated with a low-pressure system over the Ohio Valley. More wet weather was expected today, with the Ohio Valley low moving slowly eastward through New England tonight and Friday.