BY DAVID HENCH

The Portland Press Herald

Residents of southern Maine awoke Friday to a deeper-than-expected blanket of snow, particularly in inland communities, where cold temperatures and southwest winds combined to push snow totals above 9 inches.

The overnight storm pushed snowfall totals in inland communities past normal for this time of year, though coastal towns still are a couple inches behind.

“It seems like a fairly snowless winter, but after this storm we’re going to be above normal,” said Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service in Gray, where 7.4 inches fell overnight and snowfall for the year is 41.1 inches, some 5.5 inches above normal.

Portland remains almost 2 inches below normal, but is catching up, with 27.7 inches total.

The storm was forecast to leave 3 to 6 inches of snow in southern Maine. Many communities pushed the high end of the range, like Portland, with 6 inches. Some, like Durham, exceeded the forecast with 9.3 inches. Lisbon Falls had 8.5 inches and Lewiston got 8 inches.

“It was cold enough in the atmosphere to have what we call a fluff factor. It was very fluffy so it piles up a little more,” Hawley said. “The ratio of water equivalent was greater, so instead of one inch of rain being 10 inches of snow, one inch of rain would equal 20 inches.”

Southwest winds off the ocean added intensity to the storm as it passed, he said. It moved through the region quickly, and would have left even more snow if it hadn’t.

Many school districts in Greater Portland started classes two hours late Friday morning, and officials in Portland opted to close the schools.

“Rather than the total snowfall, the key criterion … was the condition of the sidewalks, which presented a safety concern for our many walkers,” said Peter Eglington, chief operating officer for Portland schools.

As of 4 a.m. only about one-quarter of the city’s sidewalks were clear, some equipment had broken down, many residential streets remained snow-covered, and cleanup of school property had just begun, he said.

“We received more snow than I anticipated, but it was relatively lightweight and not enough to warrant closing schools on its own,” he said. “Had the level of cleanup been farther along, keeping schools open would have been a clearer choice.”

One reason this season’s snowfall totals seem contrary to observation is that above-average temperatures melted early snowfalls, including storms in October and November.

The average temperature in December was 4.5 degrees above the norm of 33.3. So far in January, the average temperature of 28.9 is 3.2 degrees above normal.

While the latest storm hit inland areas harder than the coast, it was the opposite last week, when a midweek storm dropped 10 inches in Scarborough and 8 inches in Portland, with lesser amounts away from the coast. The forecast had called for 2 to 4 inches, switching to rain, in the Portland area.

The lack of snow inland led the Maine Lakes Mushers Bowl to postpone its sled dog races from this weekend to the weekend of Feb. 18.

“The problem earlier in the week, there just wasn’t enough snowpack to keep it safe,” said Jim Mains, executive director of the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce and an organizer of the winter carnival. “These sled dogs create a lot of speed. … The pack of the snow has to be just right.”

Other events will be held at Highland Lake as planned, he said, and 4 inches of fresh snow should make for good dogsled rides and other activities, he said.

Hawley said precision forecasts can be a challenge in Maine, where weather can be influenced by the ocean and the mountains.

“I always say, if you have 10 weather men in a room looking at the same data, you get 10 different forecasts,” Hawley said. “The average of the 10 is probably right.”

This weekend’s forecast calls for a little light snow this morning in southern parts of the state, clearing out toward the evening, and a very cold night, said Eric Sinsabaugh, another meteorologist at the weather service. It should be sunny and a little warmer on Sunday.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.