PORTLAND – A spring storm that spread across Maine on Thursday dumped nearly a foot and a half of heavy, wet snow throughout the state, slowing traffic, closing schools, knocking down power lines and setting the stage for a white Easter.
After a brown Christmas with no snow on the ground, Mainers were resigned to digging out driveways at a time when thoughts usually turn to flower gardens and landscaping.
“We had Easter on December 25th. People had crocuses coming out and blooms on bushes. And now we have Christmas, with all this snow,” said meteorologist Butch Roberts of the National Weather Service in Gray. “It’s a little topsy-turvy sometimes.”
Although the official first day of spring was March 21, it isn’t unusual to see snow fall in April, according to meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Caribou. The Caribou station has seen measurable amounts of snow in Maine through the middle of May.
The snow arrived early Wednesday evening and built up strength during the night, falling at a rate of an inch or 2 an hour.
Forecasters are predicting that the weekend could bring another storm, but said that it likely will remain far enough east that it won’t reach Maine.
Thursday’s snowfall tallies ranged from as little as 3 inches along the coast at Kittery Point at the state’s southwestern tip to 18 inches in Wilton and Hartford.
Schools, municipal offices, and even some stores in scores of towns and cities throughout the state were closed or canceled activities for the day.
A winter storm warning was posted through the late morning in southern sections of Maine and was expected to remain in effect until evening in the extreme north.
By midafternoon, the snow had tapered off in the Bangor area, but not before leaving 16 inches on the ground in Orono and surrounding towns.
The highest snow accumulations were in the western foothills, with Denmark and Hiram reporting 17 inches.
Gov. John Baldacci signed an Emergency Declaration on Thursday afternoon allowing power crews from other states to come to Maine to help restore power to the 250,000 to 275,000 customers in the state without power. The declaration will stay in effect until the governor rescinds it.
Baldacci participated in several conference calls regarding the power outages and was briefed on the situation by Central Maine Power and the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
The heavy snow downed tree limbs and caused entire trees to droop onto roads.
“This is a serious storm for us,” said John Carroll, spokesman for Central Maine Power, the state’s largest electric utility. “It’s safe to estimate that it will be days before we get the final work cleaned up.”
To the north, the impact appeared far less severe. Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. reported more than 4,000 outages and CMP nearly 95,000 at the peak. By evening, the numbers had been winnowed to about 960 for Bangor Hydro and 87,800 for CMP.
Some CMP customers in southern York County and east of Brunswick likely won’t have electricity restored until Saturday, Carroll said.
More than 240 line workers and additional support personnel were working to repair the damage. The company also has contacted utilities in surrounding areas for assistance.
“We’re likely to have several days’ work ahead of us in some areas,” Carroll said.
The Houlton Water Co. had no reports of power outages by early Thursday evening. Maine Public Service Co. reported scattered outages ranging from eight minutes to an hour and 20 minutes in other parts of Aroostook County. Spokeswoman Ginny Joles said the largest one was in the Presque Isle area, affecting 650 customers.
As of 3 p.m. power was restored, but the company remained on alert throughout the evening.
“If you see things that could be dangerous, don’t hesitate to call; watch out for each other; and let us or the power company know what has taken place,” Baldacci said in a press release Thursday. “If there are people who are vulnerable or who could be at risk, please let them know that there are warming stations and shelter availability.”
In response to the storm, local emergency management agencies worked with the Red Cross to open shelters and warming stations in necessary areas.
The Red Cross issued a plea for blood donations because inventories of most blood types were reduced to a one-day supply.
“The Red Cross has had to cancel several blood drives across northern New England, which will make blood collections particularly difficult during this holiday weekend,” said Donna M. Morrissey, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
The wet snow not only brought down power lines and tree limbs, it also made slow going for motorists. There were reports of vehicles off the road on the interstate and secondary roads, and police said a traffic death Wednesday on a slippery road in Topsham was weather-related.
According to Topsham police, Megan Sisto, 17, of Topsham was pronounced dead at the scene of a two-vehicle crash after the Volvo she was riding in spun out of control and hit a Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by Guy Landry, 47, of Lewiston. The Volvo was driven by Bailey Gagne, also 17, of Orr’s Island.
Gagne and passengers in both vehicles were taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston for nonlife-threatening injuries. The cause of the crash is still being investigated, but weather conditions were a factor, according to Topsham police.
Somerset County Communications’ Center dispatchers reported at least 20 accidents. Most of them were vehicles sliding off the road and no injuries were reported.
Because of driving conditions, less than half the jurors expected at Somerset County Superior Court were able to make it to the courthouse, clerk Sally Rogers said.
“We were able to pick a jury, though,” she said. “The roads were just awful.”
A Camden police dispatcher said officers dealt with plenty of cars off the road and downed utility wires, but no serious injuries were reported. Rockport police reported the same.
Numerous reports were received of vehicles off the road throughout the morning in Hancock County; there were no serious injuries. In some areas, roads remained snow-covered into the afternoon.
The Presque Isle Police Department handled four minor car accidents within 20 minutes Thursday afternoon and dealt with cars sliding off the road and minor fender benders throughout the day, Sgt. Mark Barnes said.
In Caribou, Dave Ouellette, the city’s public works director, said Thursday that his crew of 12 had been out since 8 a.m. clearing roadways.
“Even when the trucks have plowed, 15 minutes later there’s probably half an inch on the ground and it’s slippery all over again,” Ouellette said.
He estimated that crews would be out until 11 p.m. and would return to clear things up at about 3 a.m. Friday.
The Maine State Police and Houlton Police Department were busy throughout the day from Sherman to Houlton, dealing with everything from cars off the road and fender benders to a tractor-trailer that was having a difficult time getting up a steep incline on Drake’s Hill in Houlton.
Houlton police dealt with several minor accidents throughout the day, but no serious injuries were reported.
The Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department had received no reports of accidents or cars off the road by late afternoon.
In an effort to keep the roadways clear, many towns and cities, including Bangor and Brewer, imposed parking bans.
In Fort Kent, police reported all was quiet on the roads, but snowmobile dealers were reporting busy conditions on snowmobile trails.
The snow was expected to extend the spring skiing and snowmobiling seasons at several western Maine resorts that got off to a slow start because of the early winter warm spell.
Frank Fournier, owner of Fort Kent Ski-Doo Sales and Services, said the snowfall would give the area at least an extra weekend or two of riding.
“We’re guaranteed this weekend for sure,” he said. “It’s extra business. The season started late so maybe this is going to make up the difference on the back end.”
Fournier said he had at least 20 to 30 people come through his door Thursday during breaks from riding the trails.
“They’re saying the trails are pretty darn good for what time of year it is,” he said. “This was a nice surprise basically, a nice Easter surprise.”
BDN writers Aimee Dolloff, Tom Groening, Rich Hewitt, Jen Lynds, Sharon Kiley Mack and Rachel Rice contributed to this report.