A nor’easter roared into central Maine as predicted Tuesday, prompting widespread early closings of schools and offices, car crashes, a blizzard warning with whiteout driving conditions and rapidly accumulating snow expected to total a foot or more.

Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said earlier Tuesday that the snow wasn’t expected to start easing up until midnight. Heavy bands of snowfall were expected to bring 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour later Tuesday, with total accumulations of 12 to 18 inches by Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, a blizzard warning issued by the weather service was centered initially on southern Maine but later widened to include the coast and central Maine as well. Under a blizzard warning, wind of 35 mph is sustained for three consecutive hours and visibility during that time is a quarter-mile or less. The blizzard warning was expected to last for the duration of the storm until 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Chris Kimbly, another meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Tuesday evening that the top problem of the storm was low visibility.

“It’s not uncommon to see some blizzard conditions in the region once or twice every year or two, but we have had several intense storms this year, and this is just latest one,” Kimbly said.

The storm slamming Maine was part of a massive weather system stretching from Washington, D.C., to Maine, affecting tens of millions of people by the time it moves out of the Northeast on Wednesday.

Mark Turner, the director of public works in Waterville, said Tuesday evening that everything was running smoothly for his department. There had been no equipment problems, and because the storm didn’t intensify until later in the day, his crews had time to prepare and treat the roads before plowing.

“We’ll keep at it through the night,” he said, cautioning drivers to stay off the roads during the storm.

Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, also cautioned people to stay off the roads and let the plows do their work. But he said overall traffic had been light on the roads, which made it easier for plow drivers. Even so, the storm’s blizzard conditions did make the job challenging.

“Once again, (this) is a very tricky storm, with high winds and low visibility presenting challenges to our drivers,” Talbot said. “Sometimes they’re operating in whiteout conditions.”

Schools, city and towns offices and libraries across the region closed early for the day Tuesday, while Maine state offices shut down by 2 p.m.

Gov. Paul LePage said in a statement announcing the state office closures that everyone driving should use caution during the storm.

“Stopping safely on snow or ice during inclement weather takes extra time and distance,” LePage said in the statement. “Drive slowly so you can adjust to changing road conditions. Please remember to keep a safe distance behind other vehicles, and give plow trucks plenty of room to operate.”

Travel was brought to a near standstill in the Northeast, with more than 5,000 flights canceled and train and bus service suspended from Washington, D.C., to Maine. Meteorologists were calling for snowfall totals as high as 20 inches in New York City, and 12 to 18 inches in Boston, while states of emergency were declared in New York, New Jersey and Maryland.

All departures on Tuesday from Portland International Jetport were canceled.

Also canceled was Tuesday night’s performance of Chizzle Wizzle, the 126th edition of Cony High School’s long-running student musical variety show. Tickets for the Tuesday performance, Augusta school officials said, may be exchanged for another performance of Chizzle Wizzle, which runs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Not surprisingly, police departments in the region reported a number of weather-related vehicle crashes throughout the day. In Waterville, police Deputy Chief Bill Bonney said his agency had responded to numerous reports of car accidents, though none had involved serious injury.

“They have all been a result of slippery roads and snow,” Bonney said.

By the afternoon, Bonney said, police had responded to about eight accident calls. He said there had been no calls about pedestrians slipping because of the conditions, and he said since many businesses are closing early, he anticipated the number of accidents would decrease as people got off the roads.

Mike Smith, director of communications at the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office, said there had been six accidents as of early Tuesday afternoon, because of road conditions. There had been two in Anson and one each in Fairfield, Palmyra, Benton and Canaan. None was serious, he said, and involved either minor “fender benders” or drivers off the road. A dispatcher at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office reported no serious accidents.

“As roads get worse, recommend (drivers) stay off the roads,” Smith said.

Central Maine experienced some power outages by Tuesday evening, and Central Maine Power Co. reported more than 25,000 customers across 10 counties were without power as of 6:30 p.m. Tueday, with most of the outages in York County.

The rest of the week is not forecast to be as cold as this past weekend, but highs won’t get past the 30s. The normal temperature at this time of year is about 40 degrees, said Hawley, the meteorologist.

Hawley said the forecast now says more snow is likely to come Maine’s way this weekend, although it was too early to predict snowfall amounts.

The late-winter storm follows an above-average season for snowfall. Waterville normally gets about 64.3 inches of snow, but has had 79 inches this winter, beating its average by at least 20 percent already.

Portland Press Herald staff writer Gillian Graham contributed reporting.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

 

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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