State and municipal crews were gearing up Thursday for a weekend storm that was forecast to deliver more than a foot of snow across central Maine.

“It’s an above-average storm, but right now it’s not an extraordinary storm,” said Dale Doughty, director of the Department of Transportation’s Maintenance and Operations Bureau.

Meteorologist James Brown of the National Weather Service in Gray said snow should begin falling around noon Friday and pick up around 6 p.m. Heavy snow, sometimes falling at a rate of 2 to 3 inches per hour, is expected through Saturday morning, Brown said.

All told, the region should get 12 to 18 inches of snow, Brown said. He said confidence about the snowfall prediction is growing.

“It’s been fairly consistent,” he said. “A few miles difference (in the storm track) can be the difference in heavy snow and really heavy snow.”

Augusta Public Works street superintendent Jerry Dostie said such a forecast certainly would make the looming storm the biggest of the winter — so far.

“We hope there’s nothing bigger,” he said.

Kathy Goggin, owner of Goggin’s IGA on Water Street in Randolph, said there has been the uptick in business you would expect with an impending storm.

“Everyone’s a little nervous about it because it sounds like it’s going to be a big one,” she said. “People are gearing up. They’re stocking up on their wine.”

Goggin has tickets for a Bon Jovi concert in Connecticut over the weekend. She was keeping an eye on the forecast to see whether she might be able to make the trip, but her family was urging her to take a pass.

“I think I’m staying home and keeping people happy,” she said.

Dostie also hopes people will stay off the roads unless necessary. He said cold temperatures accompanying the storm will make the snow light and easy to move, but with wind expected to rise to 30 mph, snow also will be drifting. He expects a blizzard warning before the storm clears out Saturday evening.

“That’s the bigger concern,” Dostie said. “It’s not really the amount; it’s the blowing and the whiteout conditions.”

The worst of the storm is expected after commuters have returned home tonight, which is good news for plow operators, Dostie said. Crews will have the weekend to clean up.

“Most businesses are closed, the state is closed, so we don’t have that traffic,” he said. “The less traffic, the better for us.”

The storm will potentially pose other challenges, particularly bands of quick accumulation. Doughty said plow routes are designed to take 45 minutes to an hour to make one loop.

“If it’s 2 inches an hour, it can accumulate,” Doughty said. “That’s when we start to not be able to keep up.”

Hundreds of plow trucks, loaders and other equipment were being prepared for duty Thursday across the state, but the real toll is on those who operate that equipment. Dostie said Augusta crews typically are rotated during a long storm so the drivers can rest, but they still might put in an 18-hour shift.

“People need rest and we try to be as considerate as we can,” Dostie said. “It’s a juggling act.”

Officials at several area schools said they would wait until today to decide whether school days would be affected by the storm.

A memorial service for Maj. Gregg Sanborn of the Maine Warden Service also has been postponed because of the storm. Visiting hours for Sanborn, who died Tuesday after a long fight with cancer, will be from 4-6 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. Sunday at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, 15 Oak Grove Road in Vassalboro. A celebration of Sanborn’s life will begin at 11 a.m. Monday at the same location.

The Maine Pond Hockey Classic — a two-day event beginning Saturday on China Lake — will go on despite forecasts for a significant winter storm today and Saturday. A blanket of snow will help event volunteers shore up three rinks that are under construction, according to a volunteer.

Fifteen youth and adult hockey teams from Maine, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Nova Scotia will meet on three hockey rinks at the northeast corner of China Lake, off Lakeview Drive in China. The first game begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and playoffs will continue through Sunday afternoon.

Event volunteer Bert Languet was on the lake ice Thursday, flooding the rinks with water. He said the snow will be a good thing.

“We need the snow, actually,” he said. “If we have snow, we can build the banks and make the rinks better defined. Plus, it’s easier for people to stand on (snow) than glare ice.”

The storm was posing a dilemma for Velencia Schubert, recreation director for the town of Belgrade. She has been preparing the Belgrade Community Center for All Seasons for the 80 fathers and daughters who plan to attend tonight’s father-daughter dance. While events were being canceled speedily around the state on Thursday, Schubert was holding out hope that the dance could go forward as planned.

“I’m an optimist,” she said. “I can’t help myself. They can come on snowmobiles. We have that kind of place.”

Schubert said she would decide by 3 p.m. today and call each parent if the dance is postponed. The snow-date is Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

“This is a huge annual event here,” Schubert said. “I feel like it’s not going to be so much that I want to disappoint all those little girls.”

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
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