The Kennebec River was whitecapped and roaring as it passed through downtown Augusta on Wednesday afternoon. Logs and pieces of debris bobbed on its surface, and passers-by stopped to behold its might.
“She tried to go in,” said Jeff Parquette, of Randolph, referring to Dolly, the white American bulldog he was walking along Front Street. “I was like, ‘No way! The tide’s going too fast.'”
The National Weather Service has warned there could be minor flooding along the Kennebec River in Augusta, Hallowell, Sidney and Skowhegan between Wednesday and Thursday; and by Wednesday afternoon, some water already was flowing into the Front Street parking lot in Augusta.
Public officials from towns and cities along the river have been monitoring those flood conditions, as well as the National Weather Service’s forecasts, but they were not overly concerned about the rising water levels.
“Between police and fire and public works, we’ve got lots of eyes on it,” said Lesley Jones, Augusta’s public works director. “It’s not a risk at this time.”
Jones predicted the flood might reach the back, concrete wall of the Front Street parking lot, but said she didn’t expect the effect to be greater than that. That parking lot was blocked off Wednesday, and at least one Water Street business owner said the weather seemed to be scaring off customers.
“Any time we have flood warnings, people are nervous to come downtown,” said Betsy Curtis, owner of the clothing and furniture store Betsy’s. “But I don’t think anybody is closing down their businesses.”
Curtis, whose business includes storage space on Front Street, said she was not too concerned about water entering the building.
The current flood warnings relate to the record-breaking warm temperature earlier this week, which continued through the nights and melted large parts of the snow pack in northern and western Maine.
“The big flush, so to speak, occurred Monday and Tuesday,” said Tom Hawley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray. “Water comes down the Carrabassett and Sandy rivers from the mountains, and all that melt is eventually going to come by Augusta.”
Hawley said cooler temperature later this week should slow the melting rate and cause the river level to drop by Friday, but snow will continue to melt this spring, ensuring that water level remains generally high. If 3 to 5 inches of rain falls during a storm, Hawley said, it could cause “moderate or major flooding while we still have snow.”
In north Sidney and Skowhegan, Hawley said the minor flooding is not likely to create any damage.
Downriver from Augusta, police departments are also on the lookout for flooding this week. Hallowell police Chief Eric Nason said police have contacted business owners in low-lying areas to warn them about the risk, and they were preparing to barricade off parking lots in those parts of town.
There’s no longer any risk of ice jams, which can lead to rapid flooding, Nason said, but he is monitoring the weather upstream to see what could be headed Hallowell’s way.
“If it rains considerably to the north of us, then that’s something that’s going to impact us hours later,” he said.
And while the National Weather Service is not calling for flooding in Gardiner, that town’s police chief, James Toman, urged residents to be mindful of the weather in a post on the department’s Facebook page. If flooding from the Kennebec River or Cobbosseecontee Stream does become serious, Toman said the town could close off the arcade and waterfront parking lots.
“We’ll be monitoring (the water levels) closely,” Toman said. “We’re not closing lots. We’re not changing any overnight parking. We’re not making an special arrangements other then just letting people know.”
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642