Blizzard conditions engulfed central Maine and the much of the state Thursday as a powerful nor’easter brought strong wind and steady snowfall that was predicted to total a foot or more before tapering off late at night.

The storm, the first with blizzard conditions in the new year, caused a number of traffic accidents across the region and just a handful of local power outages by the evening. Kennebec County was among the regions experiencing full-blown blizzard conditions, meaning at least three hours of wind gusts of at least 35 mph and visibility of a quarter-mile or less.

The National Weather Service in Gray issued a blizzard warning for central Maine that was in effect until 4 a.m. Friday, saying that a “powerful coastal storm continues to rapidly intensify and move northeast.” It warned of dangerous travel conditions, wind gusting up to 50 mph and localized accumulations that could reach 13 inches, with lots of blowing and drifting snow.

A hazardous-weather outlook, put out in mid-morning Thursday, also predicted “brutally cold air” returning Friday as the temperature once again reaches subzero by evening.

It was the prospect of that one-two punch — significant snowfall followed by bone-chilling cold — that had many people concerned even as heating fuel dealers scrambled to keep up with demand and service repair workers raced to thaw frozen water pipes and fix failing furnaces.

Fabian Oil tanker truck driver Scott Nesbit was at the Litchfield Country Store on Thursday, delivering 5,000 gallons of gasoline to the store, where clerks said fuel had run out the previous day. Nesbit said this winter has been one of the most challenging in his career of delivering critical distillates to customers throughout Maine.

“The craziest cold in 30 years,” he said, “but that’s what makes the oil flow.”

Meanwhile, police, firefighters and emergency workers responded to a series of weather-related traffic accidents Thursday across the central Maine.

In Augusta, Northern Avenue was closed Thursday morning between Monroe and Jefferson streets as emergency responders worked to untangle a traffic accident in which one of two vehicles involved slid into the city’s Engine 1 fire-rescue truck.

And a crash on Town Farm Road near West River Road in Sidney brought utility lines down across a vehicle, trapping the driver inside for about an hour until a Central Maine Power Co. crew could cut the power.

Midway through Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service issued another urgent message, adding to the “Blizzard Warning” already posted. The newer one said a “Wind Chill Watch” would remain in effect from Friday morning through Sunday morning that included a number of municipalities in central Maine.

It warned: “Dangerously cold wind chills possible this weekend. Travel will be very dangerous to impossible through tonight. Tree branches could fall as well. Total snow accumulations of 12 to 18 inches are expected through tonight. Wind chill values this weekend could fall to as low as 35 below zero.”

Eric Sinsabaugh, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said, “It’s going to be the coldest air of the season that we’ve seen so far.”

However, he said the weather conditions were not unusual for early January.

“We’re just watching it snow,” he added.

The first power outages as the storm hit were reported before 10:30 a.m. in southern Maine, although many more were expected later. Central Maine Power Co. had more than 2,000 customers without power by Thursday evening, including 58 in Franklin County.

At the Augusta Community Warming Center at 9 Pleasant St., some 15 people took shelter Thursday morning.

“People are coming in passing on the message that it’s chilly outside and the snow is coming down,” said Santa Havener, program and operations manager for Bridging the Gap, which runs the center.

Havener said she anticipated about 30 people would be in before the shelter closed its doors at 4 p.m. The shelter is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day until March 31.

DANGEROUS DRIVING

Because of all the advance warnings about the blizzard, cancellations were announced early, keeping roads mostly clear for those emergency vehicles, plow trucks, and people who needed to go out. But a number of crash reports came in to area police agencies throughout Thursday.

Augusta police Sgt. Christian Behr said city police responded to seven reports of accidents between 9:40 a.m. and 2:40 p.m.

The report of the Northern Avenue accident came in at 9:52 a.m. The crash sent one person to MaineGeneral Medical Center for treatment. Behr said the incident began with a two-vehicle crash on a curved, steep section of Northern Avennue, and then one of those bumped into the responding fire engine, causing what appeared to be some minor damage. He said the roadway was closed until a tow truck could remove the vehicle.

“It was slippery,” he added.

Then the fire engine responded to a report of possible chimney fire, which Behr said he later learned was heavy smoke because of a flooded furnace.

An emergency crew spent about two hours on Northern Avenue dealing with those incidents.

In the crash on Town Farm Road, state police Cpl. Diane Vance said Lynn Jandreau, of Sidney, complained of pain but was not taken to a hospital.

Vance said Jandreau’s 2004 Chevrolet Suburban apparently was traveling too fast for conditions when it slid off the road, striking the utility pole and the wire. The call came in at 9:40 a.m., and Sidney firefighters assisted at the scene.

Vance said she anticipated responding to more storm-related crashes as the storm intensified.

“It’s just a matter of time before it gets worse,” she said.

In Winthrop, crews worked to upright a Fielding’s Oil & Propane Co. delivery truck that was reported to be on its side Thursday afternoon on Maranacook Road.

Winthrop interim police Chief Dan Cook said the call came in initially reporting no damage, but that state Department of Environmental Protection personnel were at the scene, as were members of the Winthrop Fire Department.

TRAVEL AFFECTED

The large storm pounded the East Coast from Georgia to New England, wreaking havoc on travel. Thousands of flights in the Northeast scheduled for Thursday and Friday were canceled.

All Thursday flights were canceled at Portland International Jetport, and seven of 35 departures scheduled for Friday also have been canceled, the airport announced. Jetport officials were advising all passengers to check with airlines before venturing out Friday.

Amtrak canceled most Thursday rail service in Maine, with the exception of one Downeaster trip to Boston. Concord Coach Lines canceled all bus service Thursday from Maine, New Hampshire, Boston and New York.

State, municipal and private plow trucks hit the roads early Thursday.

“There will be at the height of the storm 350 (state) plow trucks out,” said Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation. “It’s all hands on for this storm. We were prepared for this storm in late October. That’s when we got all our gear ready and transferred from summer mode to winter.”

He also noted that the snow will be pushed off the roads as far as possible in anticipation of the deep freeze expected to follow.

The speed limit on the length of the Maine Turnpike was reduced to 45 mph by 8 a.m. Thursday.

Augusta Public Works Director Lesley Jones said the city’s plows had been on the road since 6:45 a.m. Thursday.

“All our plows are out and covered all our 21 runs,” she said late Thursday morning. The city has about 25 pieces of equipment for plowing.

“We have a relief crew coming in at 2 and will send morning crew home for some rest back. They’ll be back about 2 a.m. to clean everything up.”

Schools, municipal and state offices and businesses across the state announced storm closings and parking bans ahead of the storm.

“There will be a lot of blowing and drifting snow,” said Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the weather service in Gray.

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

STORM SAFETY

A Central Maine Power Co. news release Thursday reminded Mainers affected by the storm to have flashlights ready in case the power goes out and to follow directions closely when using alternative heating sources — such as generators — to keep safe.

“Everyone should stay clear of any downed power lines or fallen trees that may be tangled in the lines,” CMP spokesperson Gail Rice said. “All downed lines should be considered live and dangerous. Customers should leave the cleanup to our crews, who are trained and equipped to handle these situations safely.”

CMP has said it can call in crews from outside Maine if conditions worsen.

And Talbot, from the transportation department, reiterated a notice from the governor’s office urging property owners to clear a path so oil delivery personnel can fill their pipes.

“Further interruption of oil delivery not good thing going into a deep freeze,” Talbot said.

In Winslow, workers from the Kennebec Water District were busy Thursday fixing up a main break caused by the cold on Poulin Street. Jeff LaCasse, the district’s general manager, said the fix was relatively easy and the crew was able to shut off the main, dig the leak site, install a new stainless steel repair clamp on the break in the pipe, and were backfilling the excavation.

LaCasse added that many of the calls for repairs the district received in the past week were related to the low temperature and pipes freezing. He said they had to replace several frozen water meters and customers were asked to apply heat to the pipes in order to thaw them.

Maine Natural Gas issued a reminder to customers to keep vents, meters and regulators clear of snow and ice.

“We want customers to stay comfortable and safe all winter,” said Robert Kump, CEO of Avangrid Networks, parent company of Maine Natural Gas, in a news release sent Thursday morning. “Taking the simple, but important step of keeping gas equipment free of snow and ice can help prevent serious safety hazards, and ensure that emergency responders have the access they need,”

Staff writer Emily Higginbotham and Portland Press Herald staff writers Kelley Bouchard, Joe Lawlor and Megan Doyle contributed reporting.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams