If weeks of unseasonably warm temperatures lulled people into a false sense of security about winter weather, Tuesday’s storm is a wakeup call.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm watch for most of the state on Monday afternoon, forecasting a storm that is expected to bring snow, ice and rain to Maine. Wintery weather is expected late night through Tuesday.
In Kennebec, Franklin and Somerset counties, the weather service predicted 6-12 inches of snow, mixed with sleet and freezing rain, especially south of Skowhegan.

“I don’t know if it will be the first measurable snow, but it will be the first significant measurable snow,” said James Brown, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray, on Monday afternoon.

With snow and ice a near certainty and something most drivers haven’t dealt with for eight months, public safety officials are warning people to drive responsibly and stay off the roads if possible.

“Slow down, slow down, slow down, and don’t drive if you don’t have to” were the recommendations from Somerset County Sheriff’s Deputy Chief Jim Ross.

People sometimes aren’t accustomed to driving in slippery conditions during the first winter storm, which can result in more accidents, he said, but if every driver just went 10 mph slower than their usual speed, it would go a long way to making travel safer. With schools out and many people taking vacations around the holidays, the traffic is expected to be a little less, but still plenty to make travel in the storm a headache, he added.

“Leave 10 minutes early, drive slower and get there safe,” he said.

Public works crews across the region have been ready for winter weather since November, stockpiling salt and sand for icy roads and double-checking vehicles to make sure they are ready to tackle the tough weather.

Waterville Public Works Director Mark Turner said Monday ice, snow and rain on Sunday gave public works a preliminary run before Tuesday’s main event.

“We ran the entire crew yesterday,” he said. “We’re warmed up and ready to go.”

In Augusta, Public Works Director Lesley Jones said the department was prepared by November.

“We have had a couple of units break down, so we’re working to get those ready to go,” she said. The fact it’s school vacation week helps, she added.

Early morning storms tend to be difficult because the department doesn’t have time to treat the roads before people start traveling, she said. The department may have a crew come in at 3 a.m. and pre-treat roads. It takes 90 minutes to mobilize everyone if they are not at work by the time it’s started to snow.

“We suggest everyone gets a good night sleep,” she said.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said the 12-person department is missing two seasonal hires who left because pay was too low. He’s in the process of hiring to fill the spots, but won’t have people in place in time for Tuesday’s storm. He might end up pitching in himself, he said.

In Winthrop, Town Manager Peter Nielson said spot sanding on Sunday was a good test run for the department and since the ground is still soft, crews will have to be careful to keep plow wings from digging up lawns.

John Lynch, who owns Lynch Landscaping in Skowhegan, said winter plowing makes up about 10 percent of his business.

“It’s not huge, but it does keep us busy in the wintertime,” he said.

“Compared to last year, we are way behind revenue,” Lynch said, “but we’re not going to go bankrupt.”

On the other hand, the mild temperatures meant landscaping could continue later into the fall, and the plowing contracts he has with businesses mean the company will be paid if it snows or not.

Retailers noticed an uptick of sales Monday morning as people finished up last-minute storm preparations.

Customers were waiting between an hour and a half and two hours to get snow tires put on at Waterville Tire Center on College Avenue Monday morning.

Manager Jeremy Stanton said he already had 20 vehicles come in to buy new snow tires or switch over from all-season tires by 10:30 a.m. The rush isn’t anything new, Stanton said. The warm weather may have prolonged how long people waited, but there is always a mad dash to get snow tires on right before an impending storm, he said.

“It happens every year,” Stanton said.

“They heard that one word, snow, and it’s ‘I gotta go, I gotta get it done,'” he said.

Jeff Martin, of Fairfield, was sitting in the waiting area at the tire shop Tuesday. Martin put tires on his vehicle about three weeks ago, but he was helping his adult son who hasn’t had the time to switch over to winter treads.

“He waited too long,” Martin said with a smile. He’d been there about half an hour and expected to wait at least another hour before the car was finished, he said.

At Gosline’s Hardware store in Farmingdale, employee Tom Sirois said there had been an uptick in traffic, especially in sales of shovels, ice melt and rock salt.

“Finally, the ice melt is starting to go,” Sirois said. “People realize winter is here.”

Tom Crocker, of Randolph, was buying four bags of rock salt in preparation for the storm. He said it was strange that it took him until Dec. 28 to buy his first salt of the season.

Pallets with bags of deicing salt were stacked in front of the Aubuchon Hardware store on Kennedy Memorial Drive in Oakland, right next to stands of snow shovels and scoops and ice picks.

Inside, store manager Greg Lapointe said he had stocked up on winter stuff in December, but the mild weather meant sales were slow. That should pick up now that winter weather is on its way, Lapointe said.

“Storms really increase sales,” he said. With the stock he had on hand, he didn’t expect the store to run out of shovels or salt anytime soon.

“Send me more snow,” he said, smiling. “Snowfall is good. We love it.”

Staff writer Jason Pafundi contributed to this report.

 

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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