Forecasts of the largest snowstorm to hit parts of Maine since 1979 prompted people to stock up on water and batteries Thursday while transportation officials warned travelers to allow extra time Friday, or just stay at home.
The National Weather Service in Gray said a nor’easter will cause blizzard conditions at times Friday and Saturday, and could drop as much as 2 feet of snow on parts of southern Maine.
That led several school systems, including Scarborough, Westbrook, Kittery and York, to cancel Friday’s classes Thursday.
Several flights scheduled to leave the Portland International Jetport on Friday afternoon — for Newark, N.J., New York and Washington, D.C. — were also canceled, according to the jetport’s website.
The last time Portland got even close to 2 feet of snow was Jan. 17-18, 1979, when 27.1 inches of snow fell.
Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist with the weather service, said the coastal region up to Brunswick and areas as far west as Sanford will be hardest hit by the storm, which is expected to intensify around 6 p.m. Friday and last into Saturday morning.
“The worst of it should be Friday night and early Saturday, with the worst conditions occurring along the coast,” Schwibs said.
Schwibs said people in the affected area will likely experience blizzard conditions – three hours or more with visibility of less than a quarter-mile. Wind gusts could be as strong as 50 mph.
“The winds are going to be howling. It’s going to be tough out there,” Schwibs said.
The weather service was confident Thursday that almost everyone will get at least 1 foot of snow, and said there is the potential for a town or region to get as much as 2 feet.
Schwibs said the snow should be “on the lighter side,” so it will be easier to shovel or ski on than wetter snow.
But the wind will be a problem, continuing to blow the snow around well into Saturday. Schwibs said the wind will make it hard for public works crews to keep snow off the roads.
No rain is being forecast for this storm.
The forecast calling for dry, light snow is good news for Central Maine Power Co. Spokesman John Carroll said rain makes snow heavy enough to down trees and power lines.
He said CMP has already called in contractors from Canada to help its crews restore power.
“The key for us is that we hope it stays cold and that the snow stays dry,” Carroll said.
James Budway, director of the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency, said he and other officials are keeping a close eye on the storm track. A shift of 20 to 30 miles could drastically change the amount of snow the area gets, he said.
“The next 24 hours will be crucial in looking at the storm to see what we’ll be doing,” he said.
The Maine Turnpike Authority began warning drivers Thursday to pay attention to the conditions and adjust their driving accordingly. The turnpike’s Facebook and Twitter pages will be updated regularly with information about road conditions, accidents and delays, said spokesman Dan Morin.
“If you don’t need to be out Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon, we urge you to stay home,” Morin said. “This could get quite messy.”
The Portland International Jetport has crews and equipment ready and waiting for snow to begin falling, said airport director Paul Bradbury.
The airport’s equipment includes five runway sweepers, three large snowblowers, four plows, two front-end loaders and various other pieces designed to clear runways of any snowbanks.
A secondary runway will be closed so crews can focus on keeping the primary runway clear, he said.
“Snow for Portland is a way of life in the winter,” he said. “But when we start to hit 2 and 3 inches per hour, we can’t stay ahead of it.”
Bradbury said the airport could close – something he said happens “rarely to never” – but only if crews can’t keep up with the snow.
Travelers should expect flights to be delayed and canceled starting Friday, he said. All airlines that fly out of Portland have announced that they will waive fees for people who want to change their flights.
Stores in southern Maine experienced a run on bottled water, batteries and other supplies Thursday.
“It’s been really busy all day in all the stores,” said Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom. “We brought in extra inventory of water and batteries. Those are definitely popular items when a storm is anticipated.”
At Oak Hill Ace Hardware in Scarborough, customers stocked up on firewood, coal and lamp oil, said store manager Nate Johnson.
He said he sold “a couple shovels here and there.” But, with the storm coming on the weekend, people seemed less concerned about shoveling out than hunkering down.
“People seem to be getting ready for being stuck inside,” he said. “It will be amusing if it all doesn’t happen.”
Winter recreation enthusiasts couldn’t wait for the storm to arrive.
Matt Sabasteanski, outdoor recreation director at Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, said he is looking forward to spending the next few days outdoors, even if that means grooming cross-country ski trails around the clock.
Sabasteanski and his crew spent the last two weeks making snow for a veterans appreciation event that originally was scheduled for Saturday, only to find themselves developing a game plan for keeping nearly 30 kilometers of ski trails groomed in the midst of a possible blizzard. The veterans event will be held Sunday.
“Now that we’ve put all that money and effort into manmade snow, it’s going to come out of the sky for a change,” Sabasteanski said. “It will be beautiful here on Saturday and especially on Sunday. Come out and play.”
In York County, members of the Ossipee Mountaineers Snowmobile Club are gearing up to groom trails and enjoy snow close to home, said club president Chrissy McGinley.
Club members will be out Friday and Saturday grooming trails across Waterboro.
McGinley cautioned riders in the area to avoid Ossipee Lake, which she said is not completely frozen.
“We’re getting excited because now we don’t have to chase the snow,” McGinley said. “We get to hop right onto the trails and go.”
At the One Longfellow Square concert venue in Portland, a Friday night concert featuring the Quebecois folk quartet La Vent Du Nord (The North Wind in French) was still on.
“You book a hardy Canadian band, you have to expect them to play no matter what,” said Longfellow’s executive director Kippy Rudi.
Rudi said anyone who arrives early to the concert and needs lodging will be eligible to receive a 10 percent discount at one of five participating bed-and-breakfasts.
“We’re trying to make this an adventure,” she said.
– Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: