AUGUSTA — An ice storm projected to coat central Maine in three-quarters of an inch of ice, or more, has officials and residents bracing for power outages and icy roads.

“The capital region is probably going to get hit pretty hard with this storm,” said Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. “There will be all sorts of impacts. No doubt there will be at least scattered power outages. Usually, when you get a half-inch of ice, there are scattered outages. But with this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Augusta came up with three-quarters of a inch or more. So (outages) could be pretty widespread.”

The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning for central Maine, a freezing rain advisory for southern Maine and a winter storm warning for northern Maine Saturday. The service warned roads and sidewalks will become very slippery, tree limbs and power lines probably will get significant accumulations of ice, and snapped limbs will pose a danger to both power lines and anyone outside.

Gail Rice, spokesperson for Central Maine Power Co., said Saturday the utility would have 170 of its own line workers, another 250 contract line workers including some from Canada, and more than 120 other field workers on duty Sunday morning. Until the storm’s expected arrival Saturday night, Rice said, “it is very much a wait-and-see thing now.”

For Augusta, the weather service forecast included freezing rain from Saturday afternoon into Monday.

On the bright side, Kistner said there isn’t likely to be much wind accompanying the ice storm.

It could be some time before central Maine thaws out, however.

Kistner said an arctic front is coming in Monday night and, by Wednesday, temperatures could be down to the single digits.

“Unfortunately, it’s going to get very cold behind this system,” he said late Saturday afternoon. “That spells all sorts of impacts on people without power, without heat.”

Maine Emergency Management Agency officials said areas that get significant freezing rain will “likely be hit with power outages, perhaps extensive.”

Northern areas of the state were expected to get snowfall, but central and southern areas were warned by emergency officials to brace for freezing rain, which can stick to trees, branches and power lines, and potentially cause them to fall to the ground and knock out power.

That made for a busy Saturday at gas stations, sand piles, hardware stores and other places dealing in storm-preparedness items.

Nick Dumas, a worker at Power Equipment Plus in Sidney, said early Saturday afternoon they had sold four or five generators and more people had been coming in or calling to ask about them than normally would on a Saturday, because of the predicted ice storm.

He said the store had only a few left and didn’t expect to get more in until at least Christmas.

“We’re definitely getting more people looking for them” because of the ice storm, Dumas said.

Maine Center for Disease Control officials expressed concern about the improper use of gas-powered generators if there is a power outage. They reminded residents to use the devices only outside, at least 15 feet from windows or doors.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed when burning most types of fuels. Using generators, charcoal grills and gas grills can cause poisoning if CO gas builds up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. Warning signs of CO poisoning are flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but no fever.

“People may be tempted to run gas-powered generators in the basement or garage, but this is extremely dangerous,” Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said in a news release.

During the ice storm of 1998, at least two people died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by improper ventilation of generators.

Also, in 2011 after Tropical Storm Irene took out power, carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of two deaths and four nonfatal poisonings in Maine, with the improper use of generators the cause in each case, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control.

Rice said in a news release the company had put its storm response plan into motion and crews, equipment and materials were in place to respond. She said the utility was coordinating its storm preparation efforts with other utilities in the North Atlantic Mutual Assistance Group and lining up crews of contractors to help CMP workers if the storm causes widespread damage.

She urged people to stay clear of downed power lines or trees on the lines and asked drivers to use caution when approaching utility crews working alongside roads.

Gov. Paul LePage signed an emergency proclamation Friday allowing utility crews to drive additional hours, beyond federally set maximums, to repair lines and restore power if there are widespread power outages.

“It’s time to put safety first, and prepare for this serious storm,” LePage said in a prepared statement. “Make sure you have what you need to weather the storm, and then check on neighbors who may need some extra help.”

During the storm, Maine 2-1-1 will have information on any shelters that are open. That information can be obtained by calling 211 on the phone or, if Internet access is available, going to 211.maine.org.

Many local municipalities make sand for driveways and walkways available to residents – often limited to two 5-gallon buckets per residence. Locations vary, but in several municipalities, including Augusta, Gardiner and Richmond, sand boxes or piles where residents can fill up buckets are at public works departments.

Shortly before 9 a.m. Saturday in Richmond, town crews spread salt on downtown sidewalks, which had a sheen of ice on them already; and a steady flow of residents backed up to the sand pile to load sand into buckets in preparation for conditions getting even more slippery than they already were.

In Augusta, according to a memo from Fire Chief Roger Audette distributed to city councilors, all emergency power generators were fueled and tested before the storm, emergency power at communication towers was checked, and the Augusta Civic Center and Augusta schools facilities were made ready in case the city needs to open a shelter. Audette said in the memo, “Every city department is ready if need be. Now we will sit back and see what Mother Nature deals us.”

Keith Edwards – 621-5647[email protected]