Transportation officials are warning Mainers to stay off the roads as heavy snow and powerful wind gusts continue to create blizzard conditions across the region.
Weather conditions deteriorated significantly before dawn, creating extremely hazardous driving with near zero visibility. The heaviest bands of snow continue to move across coastal Maine, dumping up to three inches an hour.
The National Weather Service has posted blizzard warnings for the Waterville and Augusta areas.
Central Maine Power Co. reported at 9 a.m. that 9,723 of its customers were without power. The largest number of reports was in Waldo County with 3,011. There were 453 reports in Kennebec County, 332 in Lincoln County, 164 in Sagadahoc County, and 33 in Somerset County.
Further south throughout the Northeast, 650,000 homes and businesses were reported without power.
“Right now we’re seeing significant snowfall occurring along the coast from Augusta down through the Portland area. This will continue for a couple hours before it starts to weaken and move east,” Chris Legro of the National Weather Service in Gray said shortly after 6 a.m.â€¨â€¨
Legro said 24.7 inches of snow had fallen in Kennebunk by 6 a.m. Portand had 12.3 inches by 12:30 a.m. Portland is experiencing wind gusts of around 50 mph and visibility of less than a quarter-mile.
The weather service said it expected the storm to bring the biggest snowfall to Maine since 1979. The forecast called for 28 inches in Portland – the total from the 1979 storm was 27.9 inches – by the time the storm winds down late Saturday.
Dan Morin, spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority, said all electronic message boards on the turnpike are warning motorists of zero visibility and blizzard conditions. All EZ Pass lanes have been shut down and toll attendants are warning drivers to travel at their own risk.
“Our resources are stretched responding to slide-offs and incidents. We may not be able to get to certain incidents,” Morin said.
Turnpike officials reported some cars were stuck for a time near New Gloucester when mechanical issues with a couple plow trucks prevented crews from clearing a section of road. Some cars were traveling slowly through the area and were unable to pass until crews were able to clear the road, Morin said.
No major accidents were reported.
Morin said he spoke overnight with veteran plow drivers.
“They said they haven’t sen anything like this in their careers,” he said. “They said the ice storm of 1993 wasn’t anything like this.”
“If there was a silver lining in this storm it’s that it hit overnight and that the high winds were going north and pushing snow across the highway,” Morin said.
Carroll said repair crews reported to work at 5 a.m., but can do little to restore power until conditions improve.
“In this weather, our focus is going to be on making sure than anything that does come down is de-energized,” he said. “Travel is difficult and working on the side of the road in this weather is just not safe.”
A blizzard warning remains in effect until 4 p.m. The weather service has also issued coastal flood and winter storm warnings.â€¨â€¨