December 21, 2013

Central Maine awaits hard-hitting ice storm

An arctic cold front is expected after the freezing rain

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — An ice storm projected to coat central Maine in three-quarters of an inch of ice, or more, has officials and residents bracing for power outages and icy roads.

“The capital region is probably going to get hit pretty hard with this storm,” said Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. “There will be all sorts of impacts. No doubt there will be at least scattered power outages. Usually, when you get a half-inch of ice, there are scattered outages. But with this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Augusta came up with three-quarters of a inch or more. So (outages) could be pretty widespread.”

The National Weather Service issued an ice storm warning for central Maine, a freezing rain advisory for southern Maine and a winter storm warning for northern Maine Saturday. The service warned roads and sidewalks will become very slippery, tree limbs and power lines probably will get significant accumulations of ice, and snapped limbs will pose a danger to both power lines and anyone outside.

Gail Rice, spokesperson for Central Maine Power Co., said Saturday the utility would have 170 of its own line workers, another 250 contract line workers including some from Canada, and more than 120 other field workers on duty Sunday morning. Until the storm’s expected arrival Saturday night, Rice said, “it is very much a wait-and-see thing now.”

For Augusta, the weather service forecast included freezing rain from Saturday afternoon into Monday.

On the bright side, Kistner said there isn’t likely to be much wind accompanying the ice storm.

It could be some time before central Maine thaws out, however.

Kistner said an arctic front is coming in Monday night and, by Wednesday, temperatures could be down to the single digits.

“Unfortunately, it’s going to get very cold behind this system,” he said late Saturday afternoon. “That spells all sorts of impacts on people without power, without heat.”

Maine Emergency Management Agency officials said areas that get significant freezing rain will “likely be hit with power outages, perhaps extensive.”

Northern areas of the state were expected to get snowfall, but central and southern areas were warned by emergency officials to brace for freezing rain, which can stick to trees, branches and power lines, and potentially cause them to fall to the ground and knock out power.

That made for a busy Saturday at gas stations, sand piles, hardware stores and other places dealing in storm-preparedness items.

Nick Dumas, a worker at Power Equipment Plus in Sidney, said early Saturday afternoon they had sold four or five generators and more people had been coming in or calling to ask about them than normally would on a Saturday, because of the predicted ice storm.

He said the store had only a few left and didn’t expect to get more in until at least Christmas.

“We’re definitely getting more people looking for them” because of the ice storm, Dumas said.

Maine Center for Disease Control officials expressed concern about the improper use of gas-powered generators if there is a power outage. They reminded residents to use the devices only outside, at least 15 feet from windows or doors.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed when burning most types of fuels. Using generators, charcoal grills and gas grills can cause poisoning if CO gas builds up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. Warning signs of CO poisoning are flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but no fever.

“People may be tempted to run gas-powered generators in the basement or garage, but this is extremely dangerous,” Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said in a news release.

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