A storm barreling toward New England is expected to bring heavy snow and strong winds to coastal Maine on Thursday, and businesses, government agencies and airlines announced closures and cancellations ahead of its arrival.

Central Maine Power Co. and emergency management officials also were preparing for power outages that could leave Mainers without heat as the state drops back into subzero temperatures this weekend.

“The storm they are predicting is shaping up to be stronger than four-wheel-drive, swifter than we can get ahead of and higher than we can climb,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday in a written announcement that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles had canceled all driver license exams Thursday and Friday.

Businesses, nonprofits and government agencies began posting closure notifications Wednesday, and towns and cities alerted residents to parking bans across the region.

Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement Thursday morning that all state of Maine offices would be closed for the day.

“Avoiding unnecessary travel will keep accidents to a minimum and allow state and municipal road crews to safely go about their work,” LePage said in the statement.

Jim Budway, director of the Cumberland County Emergency Management Agency, echoed the warning: “I would just recommend staying off the roads. If you don’t need to go anywhere, please stay home.”

The National Weather Service posted a blizzard warning for coastal and eastern Maine and some inland areas from noon Thursday to 4 a.m. Friday, and also a coastal flood warning from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday.

Patchy, blowing snow is expected to begin early Thursday morning, with heavy snow and areas of blowing snow and limited visibility in the afternoon. Portland and coastal areas are expected to see a total accumulation of 10-14 inches, and inland areas between 7 and 13 inches.

Winds on Thursday are forecast to be sustained at 15 to 25 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph in the afternoon.

The snow and winds are expected to taper off Friday morning, but gusts of up to 40 mph will continue to blow snow around and cause wind chills equivalent to 8 degrees below zero in Portland, the weather service said.

MORE BITTER COLD ON SATURDAY

On Saturday, temperatures in the state are expected to drop back to below zero, with a daytime high in Portland of only zero to 5 degrees.

With temperatures expected to drop on the heels of Thursday’s storm, power outages are a primary concern. CMP issued a statement Wednesday saying it is preparing to respond. The company provides power to most homes and businesses in southern Maine.

“CMP’s storm readiness teams have been holding planning meetings, and the company is pre-positioning personnel and equipment to ensure that adequate resources are in place to restore power outages that might occur as a result of the storm,” CMP’s statement said. “If needed, CMP can also call on resources from the other … companies in Connecticut and New York, as well as contractors and regional mutual assistance partners. The company is coordinating its preparations with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and county emergency management personnel.”

CMP advised customers to keep battery-operated flashlights and radios on hand, along with drinking water and nonperishable foods, and to make sure smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are fully charged.

Budway, the emergency management director, said he has been communicating with CMP officials and with other public and private agencies to prepare for the possibility of outages.

“The temperatures will be so cold outside after the (storm) that if people lose power they’re probably going to need shelter because it’ll be so cold in their homes, and we’re prepared to do that,” he said.

PREPARATIONS AND TRAVEL WARNINGS

The American Red Cross and local government officials are ready to step in to set up emergency shelters wherever needed, Budway said.

“We wouldn’t do it during the height of storm or at night. That would happen Friday,” he said.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued an intense storm advisory for the Gulf of Maine as the storm moves north along the East Coast.

“The most recent National Weather Service predictions show that sustained winds could reach at least 55 knots (63 mph) offshore in the Gulf of Maine with seas up to 26 feet, and 35 knots (40 mph) along the coast, (with) gusts up to 45 knots (52 mph) and 16-foot seas,” the advisory said.

“Pleasure craft and fishing vessels are advised to seek safe refuge, and ferry operators should evaluate their ability to operate … and take all necessary actions to ensure the safety of the passengers and crew,” the Coast Guard said.

The Portland International Jetport posted an alert Wednesday on Twitter saying 22 of 37 departures scheduled for Thursday had been canceled in advance of the storm. Travelers were urged to check with their airline before leaving for the airport.

State courts also took preemptive action. As of 3:30 p.m., superior courts in Bangor, Dover-Foxcroft and Alfred announced they would be closed Thursday, along with district-level courts in Bangor, Biddeford, Dover-Foxcroft, Lincoln, Millinocket, Newport, Springvale and York.

Staff Writer John Richardson contributed to this report.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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