From staff and news services

The turning point in what otherwise had been a cold, wet and dreary day came around 7 p.m. Sunday, when temperatures around the state climbed above freezing and rose into the 40s.

The temperature increase melted ice off roads and sidewalks, which just a few hours earlier had sent dozens of cars sliding off the highways.

Police agencies throughout southern Maine said the changeover in temperatures returned conditions to normal, with no accidents or slide-offs reported Sunday night.

But earlier in the day, it was an entirely different story.

“If you don’t need to be on the road right now please stay in until the roads can be treated,” was a message posted on the Scarborough Police Department’s Facebook page around 1:30 p.m.

One of the worst accidents happened in Gorham around 12:44 p.m. when six cars collided on Flaggy Meadow Road. Four of those cars flipped over, but no one was seriously injured. The road had to be shut down for two hours, according to a Cumberland County dispatcher.

On Route 26 in Falmouth, a sport utility vehicle with five people inside rolled over around 6 p.m. near the Falmouth Rod and Gun Club. Two people were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland with non-life threatening injuries. A police dispatcher said that section of road had not been sanded by the Maine Department of Transportation.

“Luckily, no one was badly hurt,” Falmouth police Sgt. George Savage said Sunday night. “The roads are much better now that the temperatures have come up.”

Not only were roads treacherous, but sidewalks in downtown Portland were turned into skating rinks.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Ekster offered this explanation: “Pavement temperatures don’t warm up as fast as the air,” he said.

Eskster said temperatures were frigid overnight Saturday into Sunday morning, setting up the perfect scenario for icy sidewalks and roads Sunday.

Most people woke up Sunday expecting to see 40-degree temperatures during the day, but the warm-up took a lot longer than anticipated, the weather service said. Motorists had to deal with the slippery roads that resulted.

An Androscoggin County dispatcher said Sunday there were numerous slide-offs there but no one was seriously injured.

Meanwhile, icy roads paralyzed much of central Maine on Sunday afternoon, with dozens of crashes reported in the freezing rain.

Emergency dispatch reports indicated that vehicles went off the roads in the Augusta, Waterville and Skowhegan areas. In Hallowell, a van caught fire after it went out of control on a Greenville Street hill and hit a utility pole.

One vehicle slid off Interstate 95 in Sidney, coming to rest on its roof, and at one point three cars were reported off Norris Hill Road in Monmouth. There were no reports of major injuries.

Somerset County Emergency Management Director Mike Smith said 62 motor vehicle accidents and disabled vehicles had been reported in the county between noon and 3:15 p.m. Sunday. A majority of the reports were weather-related, he said.

“They’re still coming in fast and furious,” Smith said late Sunday afternoon. “My suggestion would be for people to stay off the road unless they absolutely have to drive.”

There were about a dozen crashes in Hallowell alone, according to Lt. Roy Girard of the city’s fire department.

In Augusta, nine accidents were reported between 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Four disabled vehicles were reported on South Belfast Avenue, where a police officer struggled to get his cruiser up a hill on South Belfast Avenue because of ice, according to police Sgt. Christopher Shaw.

“The trucks are having trouble keeping up with the ice that’s coming down,” Shaw said.

All state plow crews were mobilized around noon, said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation. Just before that, the weather service issued a freezing rain advisory for much of the state, including Kennebec and Androscoggin counties, along with parts of Franklin, Somerset, Waldo, Cumberland and Oxford counties.

Monday’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 40s.

The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel contributed to this report.

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