Wind and snow picked up overnight in central Maine as the blizzard that caused power outages and accidents as it surged north through New England came to life overnight Friday and into Saturday morning.
Some 350.000 power outages were reported in New York and New England by early Saturday morning, but Central Maine power reported only a handful in the state at 1 a.m., mostly in southern Maine.
The Centers for Disease Control issues a warning for the entire state, however, that homeowners who find themselves without power take precautions, including not heating a home with a gas oven or grill, keeping generatorss outdoors and not touching downed power lines.
The National Weather Service in Gray forecast blowing snow throughout the night, heavy at times, with accumulations of 18 to 24 inches by the time the storm winds down Saturday morning and early afternoon. Accumulations were expected to be lower in western and northern parts of the state.
Wind was expected to be up to 20 miles an hour, with gusts of up to 50 miles an hour.
Temperatures dropped into the single numbers overnight and were expected to not get higher than the 20s Saturday.
Police said it looked as though most drivers were heeding warnings to stay off the roads as the storm intensified, but rescue crews still dealt with a handful of accidents as Friday night wore on.
A driver was trapped in an overturned car on snow-slicked Route 8 in North Belgrade late Friday afternoon.
The driver, whose name was not available, was pinned in the overturned car on Route 8, McGrath Pond Road, and Jaws of Life from Oakland rescue had to be used.
There was no other information available on the single car accident.
NWS meteorologist Tom Hawley said the storm is expected to be among the worst in the region in the last few years.
“This is a fairly important storm for this winter. Any time there is a foot and a half or more of snow that is not your average run-of-the-mill storm. It’s not like anything we’ve seen regularly,” he said.
Gov. Paul LePage signed an emergency declaration extending the hours of service for utility crew workers and allowing additional crews from Canada to assist with repairs if the number of power outages makes it necessary.
Central Maine Power spokesman John Carroll said the company has a storm response plan ready. CMP has asked workers to report to field offices at 5 a.m. Saturday with their bags packed, he said.
“High winds are always a concern, and the moisture content of the snow can make a bigger difference than the overall snowfall. We expect deep snow on the roads and tough working conditions, so we’re getting crews, equipment, and materials in place to respond,” he said.
In Somerset County, emergency management and 911 center director Michael Smith said plans were in place to set up storm shelters and that they were busy monitoring the storm’s progress with the help of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
“One thing that is good about this storm is the timing. On a Friday night and Saturday morning not a lot of people have to be out for a particular reason, so there should be less traffic,” he said.
Smith reminded those who have to drive to keep sleeping bags and water in their car and to drive with a full tank of gas.
“There is not a huge difference in how we are preparing for this storm than how we prepared for Hurricane Sandy or how we prepare for other winter storms,” Smith said.
Smith said he was mostly concerned about wind speeds, which could reach up to 50 miles per hour in some parts of the state.
Blizzard warnings were in effect for Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Waldo and York counties and the coast Friday until 4 p.m. Saturday, meaning that in addition to the snow fall there is a likelihood of wind exceeding 35 mph and decreased visibility of a quarter mile or less.
Lighter in north, west
There was no blizzard warning for Franklin or Somerset County Friday evening, but Skowhegan Road Commissioner Gregory Dove said the large amount of snow predicted to fall was still cause for concern. He said drifts could be up to two feet high on the roads.
“I would advise people to stay home,” he said. “The worst part of this storm will be the wind and we expect drifts to build, even with just a little bit of wind.”
On Friday afternoon Dove said road crews were busy throwing sand on intersections where the wind was already blowing snow.
All county, state and district courthouses were closed as of 2 p.m. Friday, while many area school districts sent students home early.
In Waterville, city offices closed early at 3 p.m. and the city extended its winter parking ban. Director of public works Mark Turner said the city issued a parking ban from 9 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Sunday. During that time street parking is prohibited, although he said the city will try to avoid towing cars unless they are obstructing the path of emergency vehicles or snow plows.
‘Above average storm’
“This looks like it will be an above average storm and we will probably have to plow snow on to both sides of the road,” said Turner.
The storm also closed dozens of schools and offices Friday. Weather advisories, including phone alerts that were sent to some Northeast wireless customers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service, predicted the storm to worsen over the weekend, with high winds being a primary concern.
Skowhegan fire chief Tom Keene said his department responded to two accidents Friday morning that were probably weather related: a three-vehicle crash around 10 a.m. on Madison Avenue and a a single vehicle accident around 7 a.m. on Russell Road.
At the Madison Avenue accident, Michael Spencer, 34, of Anson said the weather was the chief factor in a collision he had with a car in front of him at a stoplight.
Spencer said he was pulling out of Burger King on Madison Avenue when the passenger in his car spilled her coffee. He leaned over to help her as they were approaching a stop light, but the slippery roads made it impossible for him to stop, he said.
“I noticed it was slippery and I started pumping the brakes but it didn’t do anything. Finally I pressed the brakes all the way down but I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I wasn’t going fast.”
At the time, Tom Proctor, 57, of Moscow, was in a pickup truck ahead of Spencer’s minivan and was pushed into the vehicle ahead of him.
“I was stopped at the light and all of a sudden it was baboom. My car is totaled,” Proctor said.
“It was absolutely the weather. I noticed I wasn’t getting any traction,” said Proctor.
Portland Press Herald reporter Jessica Hall contributed to this report.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368