Holiday travelers who decided to wait out Wednesday’s storm and make the drive on Thanksgiving morning may face a different set of challenges as temperatures drop below freezing and untreated roads turn slick with ice.
The weather on Wednesday had little impact on those who decided to make the trip early, on a day that is traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year when family and friends hit the road to gather for Thanksgiving. But fewer motorists were on the Maine Turnpike on Wednesday this year than on the same day a year ago, according to Dan Morin, spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority.
Slightly more than 4,750 vehicles passed through the tolls in York headed northbound beween 1 and 3 p.m., a 10 percent drop from the same two hours last year. Nearly 3,400 vehicles passed through the tolls headed southbound between the same afternoon hours, down 16 percent year over year, Morin said.
“Traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is just over double a normal Wednesday, however, it’s only about 60 to 65 percent of normal Fridays in late July and August. While historically (the day before Thanksgiving) is the ‘busiest travel day of the year’ nationwide it pales in comparison to summer months for the Maine Turnpike,” Morin said in an email.
Thanksgiving weekend is not among the top-10 busiest travel weekends for the state when calculating average daily traffic. Three weekends in August are typically the busiest weekends of the year, while Labor Day is usually the busiest single travel day, he said.
Morin said the weather on Wednesday also caused few traffic incidents, making for relatively smooth traveling.
“We’ve had no major incidents except for a crash (Wednesday) morning which temporarily affected traffic in the Augusta area,” Morin said.
National transportation statistics show that a large number of people are likely to be on the road Thursday, possibly more that on any other travel day.
Some 27 million motorists historically take to the road on Thanksgiving, according to a Bureau of Transportation Statistics report from 2003, the latest year figures are available. Most of those, 16 million, will be making trips of between 50 and 99 miles.
Wednesday is the busier travel day for people flying or taking buses or trains, with about 2.5 million trips compared to about 800,000 on Thanksgiving day.
During the six-day travel period around Thanksgiving, the number of trips of more than 50 miles increases 54 percent, according to the bureau statistics.
Wednesday’s storm caused few delays in departures from the Portland International Jetport, though the winds and rain still made for some turbulent trips, travelers said.
As of midday, only one departure from the jetport, a flight to Philadelphia, was listed as being delayed by one hour. Otherwise, flights were leaving on time.
Carl Fecteau, who arrived from Louisville with a stop in Buffalo, said his second flight was the worst he’d ever taken.
“The pilot actually told us it was going to be rough. It was the roughest flight I’ve ever been on and I fly two or three times a year,” Fecteau said.
Echo Presgraves, who is originally from Peaks Island but currently lives in Baltimore, said her flight from Baltimore had a lot of turbulence.
“It was scarier than most flights I’ve been on. There was just a lot of turbulence. When we landed, the pilot actually said ‘Well, that was fun’ and he got a lot of laughs,” Presgraves said.
Jaci Sieven, who flew from Ft. Myers, Fla., to see family in Maine, said her flights were smooth sailing – except for the landing.
“There was a lot of wind when we landed. It was really bumpy,” Sieven said.
Wednesday’s storm did cause the Maine Ferry Service to cancel some afternoon trips as heavy winds whipped up froth in the passages between the mainland and outlying islands.
The storm also left many Central Maine Power Co. customers without electricity at different points during the day.
At one point, nearly 5,000 customers were without power, but most of those were due to a problem in a substation serving Berwick and Lebanon, said Gail Rice, a spokeswoman for CMP. Nearly 4,000 customers in those towns lost power shortly after 5 a.m., but it was restored around 8:45 a.m., she said.
Rice said CMP spent several days preparing for the storm and put every employee in the company on standby to help fix power outages as they happend.
The numbers of outages statewide fluctuated between 2,700 and 3,300 during the late morning into the early afternoon. By sunset the number of outages was down to just more than 2,300, with the majority of those, 1,292 customers without power, in Knox County, according to the utility.
Staff writers David Hench and Jessica Hall contributed to this report.
Scott Dolan can be reached at 791-6304 or at: