The winter’s largest snowstorm is bearing down on Maine, with forecasters predicting Portland will get 12 to 18 inches by the time the nor’easter ends Thursday. The high winds accompanying the wet and heavy snow are expected to cause power outages.

James Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Tuesday that the forecast has changed slightly and that the region stretching from Sanford, Rumford and Fryeburg near the New Hampshire border to Lewiston and Augusta in central Maine is expected to receive 18 to 24 inches.

The snow that falls in the Portland area “for the most part” will be wet and heavy, according to Brown. Travel on Wednesday, at least during the day, should be OK, but the storm will intensify overnight and make for difficult travel conditions Thursday morning.

On its Facebook page, the National Weather Service advised travelers to plan ahead if they have to drive Wednesday night and Thursday morning. According to the weather service, snow is expected to start falling around 2 p.m. Wednesday in Sanford, at 3 p.m. in Portland and by 5 p.m. in Brunswick.

The snowfall will be light at first, but by 8 or 9 p.m. in Portland, Brown predicted the snow could start falling at a rate of 1 to 2 inches an hour. Overnight, the snowfall rate will escalate to 2 to 3 inches an hour, making it difficult for drivers to see the road.

Wind gusts along the coast could reach 40 mph. With heavy snow falling on tree branches, Brown expects there will be power outages.

Emera Maine, which provides electricity to customers in northern and Down East Maine, issued a statement Tuesday assuring customers that it has made preparations for outages.

“Although the forecast is still evolving, we are preparing for potential impacts to the electrical system from wet, heavy snow weighing down tree limbs, as well as gusting winds,” Emera storm manager Brad Flannery said. “We’re fully staffed throughout our service territory and will continue to monitor the forecast.”

In Portland, the storm should start to taper off by noon Thursday, but in locations such as Fryeburg, Lewiston and Augusta, the storm won’t subside until late afternoon.

If forecasts turn out to be accurate, this week’s nor’easter will bring the heaviest snowfall in Portland since Jan. 4-5, when the city got 12 inches.

Some cities and towns, even before the storm started, announced parking bans and cancellations Tuesday.

Auburn, Bridgton, Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Gorham, Kittery Old Orchard Beach, Lisbon, Sanford and Yarmouth all announced parking bans that will take effect at varying times on Wednesday.

Several scheduled Wednesday arrivals and departures at the Portland International Jetport were canceled Tuesday.

Renys, which operates 16 department stores throughout the state, decided to take advantage of the impending storm.

The department store chain sent out an email blast to its list of “Maine Adventurers” reminding customers that Renys still has winter supplies for sale.

Marketing Director Mary Kate Reny said that while Easter is just around the corner, there are still plenty of shovels, sleds, scrapers and salt in stock.

Though the town of Winslow’s public works budget has run out of money, Public Works Director Paul Fongemie assured residents that services will continue.

“My overtime account is overdrawn, salt budget is overdrawn and the repair budget is overdrawn,” Fongemie said “We’re in the red, but we won’t stop plowing.”

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jessica Lowell contributed to this report.

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