AUGUSTA — A cross-country storm forecast to unleash several inches of snow and freezing rain is expected to start hitting central Maine on Friday afternoon and continue into Saturday, potentially disrupting last-minute shopping and travel plans for thousands of people.

Chris Kimble, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said he expects 3 to 6 inches of snow for central Maine, and temperature will be in the teens throughout the day Friday. He said there is some uncertainty about the expected amount of snowfall because “it will be particularly fluffy.”

“The higher snowfall totals will happen south of Augusta,” Kimble said. “You’ll probably see a break in the snow late Friday into Saturday before the freezing rain begins.”

Precipitation, especially snow and freezing rain, can affect road conditions and would be troublesome for travelers, and a lot of people will be trying to move around Maine and to other states before Christmas Day on Monday.

Becky Thompkins, of Brunswick, was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping at Old Navy and Kohl’s on Thursday in Augusta because she didn’t want to have to be out in the elements this weekend. She was looking for gifts for her parents, her husband and one more thing for her 4-year-old daughter.

“The weather isn’t going to be great, and I’d rather not take the chance in driving in either snow or freezing rain this weekend, especially before Christmas,” Thompkins said. “I’ll be happy to get everything done today and be home with family this weekend and not on the roads.

For the season, Portland has had a foot of snow, which is about 5 inches above normal. Kimble said it’s typical during each winter to have several storms that come back-to-back, and there is usually a break for a few weeks to a month when there’s not much activity. Portland is above normal now, he said, but it doesn’t mean that’ll be the case next month.

There is also a 60 percent chance of snow on Christmas Day, but there is a bit of uncertainty in the storm track, Kimble said. Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones said the city’s crews are ready.

“We’re going to (take care) of some of the shoulders on the country roads, but a lot of the roads with ice we got treated and melted,” Jones said. “Freezing rain is always the worst.”

Jones said she hoped this wouldn’t happen on a holiday weekend so workers wouldn’t miss time with their families, but she said they’ll make adjustments and make sure people can still do that.

“Working on the holiday is always hard,” she said. “We’ll be trying to make sure our guys get to spend quality time with their families.”

The two days before Christmas are typically busy shopping days, especially when they fall on a weekend. The anticipated storm might cause business owners to lower their expectations of how much customer traffic they might get.

Ellyne Fleshner, the director of regional marketing for the Marketplace at Augusta, said winter storms aren’t a surprise to shoppers that frequent the many stores and restaurants there.

“Although the roads may be covered in ice and snow, there is nothing that will stop our shoppers from getting where they need to go,” Fleshner said. “Their determination will have all shopping complete no matter what the weather.”

Amy Powers, store manager for Old Navy, and L.T. Sierra, the manager at Day’s Jewelers, said they don’t expect the weather to hurt their business this weekend.

“Snow what? Our customers aren’t afraid of any snow,” Sierra said. “This is Maine, and Mainers are out and about in all weather.”

Freezing rain and air travel aren’t a good mix, as the slick conditions on the ground make for tricky take-offs and landings. As of 4 p.m. Thursday, no flights scheduled for Friday had been delayed or canceled at Portland International Jetport, though that is expected to change once the weather worsens Friday afternoon.

Andy Smart, of Waterville, was buying headphones at Best Buy in Augusta for his planned Saturday morning flight to New York City. With freezing rain expected, he’s spent several hours trying to make other arrangements. He’s checked into moving his flight to Friday or taking Amtrak, but with the unpredictable weather, he said, he feels stuck.

“It’s always a challenge to travel in cold-weather states during the winter because you just don’t really know what the conditions will be when you’re supposed to leave,” Smart said. “I’ll do my best to be smart and safe and make sure I can get to be with my family come Sunday.”

Meteorologist David Epstein said snow might begin to change to freezing rain late Friday night along the coast and over extreme southern Maine. This will create a situation in which, as the precipitation falls out of the clouds as snow, it melts into liquid. When it hits the ground — which will be below 32 degrees — it will freeze, causing a glaze. Freezing rain is the most hazardous type of precipitation, he said.

Freezing-rain events are difficult to predict because the difference of a degree or two in temperature makes a tremendous change to what’s happening on the ground, Epstein said.

Meanwhile, the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services said cemetery gates will be closed if inclement weather is imminent until the storm passes. The service commonly reduces access to cemeteries during times of inclement weather, but it is hard to keep people from paying respects to their loved ones during the holidays.

“The Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery System will make every effort to maintain access over the extended holiday weekend,” Adria Horn, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services, said in a news release. “We understand the importance and significance of a family member visiting their loved ones over the holidays; however, the grounds crew will close entry gates and place road barriers if the storm causes dangerous conditions for our visitors.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

 

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