A pedestrian crosses Congress Street in Portland on Wednesday evening. A citywide parking ban took effect at 10 p.m. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Cancellations and parking bans began to pile up Wednesday night as a late-winter storm moved into Maine amid predictions it would dump more than a foot of snow on most of the state by Thursday.

The heavy, wet snow, combined with gusty winds, could create hazardous driving conditions and lead to widespread power outages.

At the request of Maine State Police, speed limits on all 109 miles of the Maine Turnpike were lowered to 45 mph just before 4 p.m. Wednesday as snow began to fall over southern Maine.

Overnight, snow was expected to become heavy and create dangerous travel conditions, according to the National Weather Service. Many areas of the state could get up to 18 inches by the time the storm winds down late Thursday, making the morning commute treacherous.

A brief period of mixed rain and sleet overnight was likely before the precipitation switched entirely to wet snow, said Tom Hawley, a weather service meteorologist in Gray.

“It’s going to stick to everything,” he said. “We’re looking at 8 to 12 inches tonight, then another 2 to 4 inches (Thursday).

“If people don’t have to be out on the road, they should stay home,” he said.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the nor’easter had the potential to produce what it described as “epic thundersnow” in the Northeast. The Post said New York and New Jersey would be prime targets for lightning, thunder and heavy snowfall.

Traffic moving south on the Maine Turnpike as the snow begins to come down Wednesday afternoon. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

As it made its way up the coast later in the day, the nor’easter did produce thundershow, with flashes of lightning and booming thunder from the Philadelphia area to New York City. A New Jersey middle school teacher was struck by lightning but survived, the Associated Press reported.

John Cannon, another meteorologist in Gray, said the weather service had received reports of lightning off the coast of Long Island in New York. Maine also could experience what is typically a summer event, Cannon said.

“We can’t rule it out,” he said. “Thundersnow is not out of the realm of possibility, especially when the snowfall rate intensifies.”

PREPARING FOR POWER OUTAGES

The weather service issued a winter storm warning lasting through Friday at 1 a.m. because of the severe weather expected across southern, central and Down East Maine.

In Casco, authorities reported that a vehicle crashed and overturned on Quaker Ridge Road just before 6 p.m., an accident attributed to icy road conditions. No further details were available.

Alexis Aubert of Portland walks along Congress Street in Portland on Wednesday. The city reminded residents that all residential property owners are required within 24 hours after the snow stops falling to remove snow from sidewalks that abut their property. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Greater Portland’s Metro bus service, on its Facebook page, posted a message that it plans to operate buses Thursday.

With wind gusts reaching 40 mph late Wednesday and predictions of 25 mph winds on Thursday, Center Maine Power Co. was preparing for outages. Just before midnight, CMP was reporting 2,598 customers without power, with 1,409 of them in Lincoln County and 1,171 in York County.

“The company is pre-positioning personnel and equipment to ensure that adequate resources are in place to restore power outages that might occur,” CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said in a prepared statement.

School districts, towns and organizations did not hesitate to announce storm closings for Thursday.

The University of Southern Maine posted a notice on its website alerting students and staff that all Thursday classes at its Portland and Gorham campuses had been canceled. The University of New England, which operates campuses in Biddeford and Portland, also canceled Thursday classes, as did school districts in Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Westbrook, the Lakes Region (MSAD 61) and elsewhere. The state Legislature and all of its offices also will be closed.

PARKING BANS, CLOSURES

Jessica Grondin, spokeswoman for the city of Portland, issued a statement alerting residents that a citywide parking ban would take effect at 10 p.m. Wednesday and remain in effect through 6 a.m. Thursday.

A woman walks under an overpass on Preble Street Extension as wet snow starts to fall Wednesday in Portland. “It’s going to stick to everything … If people don’t have to be out on the road, they should stay home,” said Tom Hawley, a weather service meteorologist. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Grondin also reminded residents that all residential property owners are required within 24 hours after the snow stops falling to remove snow from sidewalks that abut their property. She encouraged residents to help elderly or disabled neighbors with clearing sidewalks. Residents who need help because of physical limitations should contact the city’s Elder Services Department at 541-6620.

In addition to Portland, parking bans were announced in Biddeford, Sanford, Yarmouth, Brunswick, Auburn and Westbrook, among other towns.

Portland City Hall will be closed Thursday and the day’s trash pickup was postponed until Saturday. In Westbrook, trash pickup for Thursday was pushed to Friday, and Friday’s pickup will be done Saturday.

The state Bureau of Motor Vehicles canceled all driver license exams scheduled for Thursday.

More than two dozen flights to and from the Portland International Jetport were canceled or delayed.

The Amtrak Downeaster posted a message on its website Wednesday afternoon that said the passenger train service between Brunswick, Portland and Boston is planning to operate “full service through the winter storm today and tomorrow.” The message encouraged potential riders to check the train service’s website for any possible service changes caused by the storm.

People brave the oncoming winter storm to line up outside Red’s Dairy Freeze as the ice cream shop opened for the season Wednesday. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

On a more optimistic note, Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland announced Wednesday that it had opened for the season. Customers already were lining up as snow fell in midafternoon.

A coastal flood advisory was issued because of the possibility of splash-over and beach erosion during high tides. A gale warning for mariners also is in effect for Casco and Penobscot bays.

In York County, officials are keeping a close eye on coastal areas that were battered for four days during a strong nor’easter last weekend. Many towns reported damaged seawalls and roads and a significant amount of beach erosion.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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