A warm December storm doused southern Maine with record-setting rainfall Saturday, swelling rivers and flooding roads on the front end of a weather system that’s expected to generate high winds in the region Sunday.

From the start of rainfall Friday evening to the end of the pelting, steady precipitation Saturday afternoon, many cities and towns in Cumberland and York counties recorded between 3 inches and nearly 5 inches of rain. Saco got the most, at 4.84 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

The record 24-hour total in Portland for Dec. 14 was smashed by 4:45 p.m., when an observer clocked 3.37 inches of rain at Portland International Jetport for the day, breaking the previous record of 1.74 inches, set in 1917.

Although precipitation stopped as the storm system moved out of southern Maine on Saturday afternoon, forecasters predicted that floodwaters would peak later Saturday night, bringing torrents of muddy brown runoff that overwhelmed creeks, tributaries and drainage systems. Roads were closed throughout Cumberland and York counties, and in Portland, floodwaters rose onto portions of Commercial Street, flummoxing some motorists who tried to navigate the roadway.

Meteorologists expect heavy winds Sunday, gusting to as high as 45 mph, followed by an abrupt temperature drop into the 20s by Sunday evening.

“It’s an abrupt change from the heavy snow and cold we’ve had lately,” noted John Cannon, a weather service meteorologist.

Flooding often happened quickly and exceeded expectations, as it did at the Presumpscot River in Westbrook.

Initially, the weather service predicted that the Presumpscot, which reaches flood stage at 15 feet, would rise through Saturday afternoon and evening, cresting at 16 feet.

But the river was already beyond flood level by noontime, reaching 16.2 feet, and was expected to continue rising to near 19 feet and remain above flood stage until Sunday morning.

Along the Riverwalk near Bridge Street in Westbrook, onlookers watched, mouths agape, as torrents of muddy brown water gushed over the remnants of the Saccarappa Falls dam structure, which crews have been working to remove since June. By Saturday afternoon, the floodwaters nearly overwhelmed a temporary dam built to allow heavy equipment to access the work site. A lone standpipe pumped water from behind the impoundment.

Perched precariously on a crest of rock were two large portable generators and a gray electrical box. Brown water flowed around them, but the generators did not budge.

“I’ve never seen it like this, and I’ve lived in Westbrook all my life,” said Shane Randall, 54. Earlier in the afternoon, Randall said he watched a plastic portable toilet float away downstream, along with tarps and other material from the dam site.

Other onlookers came and went from a parking lot on the north side of the mill building.

“I don’t know if those pumps will do much today,” said Lynn McGuire, who brought her 13-year-old grandson, Jake Mitchell, to look at the water. She was among a half-dozen people who parked or walked up to watch the flow. “It’s funny how this can fascinate people.”

Coastal flooding was exacerbated by a lunchtime high tide and estuaries swollen with fresh water runoff, Cannon said.

Along the Maine coast, a gale warning is in effect until 6 a.m. Monday, from the Merrimack River in Massachusetts to Stonington, including Casco Bay and Penobscot Bay, the weather service announced. Sustained wind speeds are expected to reach 25 to 35 mph, with gusts up to 45 mph, and waves ranging from 10 to 15 feet.

The weather service warned that strong winds and hazardous seas could capsize or damage vessels and reduce visibility. Mariners should remain in port and secure vessels to withstand severe conditions, or change course and seek safe harbor if already at sea.

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