December 24, 2013

Lights go out in Waterville area as storm drags on

Power outages more than tripled from about 22,000 to 92,000 customers Monday afternoon before dropping to about 58,000 and CMP says many of those won’t be restored until Tuesday.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Tens of thousands went without power as freezing moisture continued to accumulate on across central Maine on Monday, adding weight to stressed tree branches and downing power lines.

click image to enlarge

FROZEN IN TIME: The Citizen Soldier statue stands frozen surrounded by ice-covered trees at Monument Park on Elm Street in Waterville on Sunday night.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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LINE CLEARING: Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears power lines from iced branches along Mayflower Heights Drive in Oakland on Monday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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And a Central Maine Power spokesman said many of those without power Monday night may not get it back until Tuesday.

As road surfaces began to freeze Monday afternoon, reports of accidents began to add up.

Forecasters originally thought the storm would end Sunday night, but it lasted through Monday, and could create added problems through Christmas Day and into the weekend.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

Kistner said that while the immediate impact of the storm was not as bad as anticipated, it is too early to breathe a sigh of relief.

Added moisture on Monday will be followed by a deep freeze and strong wind, with gusts of up to 25 miles per hour.

Three-quarters of an inch of ice accumulated on surfaces in central Maine over the weekend, and that amount was expected to increase to nearly an inch by the end of the day on Monday, more than any other region in the state.

The combination is expected to cause increasing numbers of downed trees, branches and power lines, creating roadway hazards and more outages.

Between the mid-morning and the late afternoon, the number of outages reported by power companies soared from about 22,000 customers to 92,000 customers.

The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office reported about two dozen accidents Monday, some of which they referred to other agencies. Accidents were reported in Anson, Fairfield, Palmyra, Pittsfield, Skowhegan and Waterville,

Maine State Police troopers had responded to a handful of vehicle accidents on Interstate 95, mostly near Pittsfield, Newport and Waterville, said Sgt. Matt Casavant.

In all cases, he said, drivers were going too fast and slid off the roads, resulting in minor, if any, vehicle damage.

He said he expected driving conditions to get much worse as temperatures dipped at night.

“Right now, nothing has really frozen,” he said. “If it goes down a few degrees, we’ll start seeing pockets of black ice.”

So far, he said, state rounds and backcountry roads had not seen many accidents.

Power outages

Early Monday evening, Central Maine Power reported more than 21,000 customers without power in 29 communities in Kennebec County, part of about 57,000 outages statewide. The statewide number, including Bangor Hydro customers, had climbed to more than 86,000 by late afternoon.

With outage reports climbing, Central Maine Power crews focused Monday night, not on restoring power, but on making sure downed lines are no longer electrified and are as safe as possible.

“As long as we’re in the impact phase, as we are, with calls still coming in, our focus is to make sure any downed lines are de-energized,” said John Carroll, a spokesman for CMP. “That’s what we’re going to do first. There is some restoration going on. But our real emphasis is on public safety.”

Carroll said if CMP customers don’t have power Monday night, they probably won’t have it back on until Tuesday.

He said the outages will be assessed overnight and the company should have a better idea Tuesday, of whether some customers could be without power for a second or third night.

Carroll said CMP’s priorities for restoration are transmission lines, which feed the rest of the system, first, then power lines that serve critical facilities such as hospitals, shelters, police and fire departments and schools, followed by trunk lines with the ones that are likely to return power to the most people getting fixed first, then, finally, to the ends of each circuit.

Carroll urged people to stay clear of downed lines and other CMP equipment, even if crews have already been there to de-energize the lines, and to use care while passing crews working alongside dark, icy roads.

Deby Foote, of China, said she lost her power in the mid-afternoon, hours after her son lost power in his nearby home. The power company reported that about 1,800 of 2,600 customers in China were without power late Monday afternoon.

Foote said the temperature in her home had dropped only a few degrees by the early evening, and that she expected her husband to be home soon to set up the generator.

Her son was using two wood stoves to heat the house, she said.

Foote said she was fearful that the power could stay out for an extended period of time.

“I’m assuming, looking at how the trees are and how much ice there is, it may not be a short thing,” she said. “I have a feeling it could be at least a day.”

In Augusta, 2,500 of 11,000 customers were without power, while Waterville was virtually unscathed, with only 27 of nearly 8,000 customers without power by mid-afternoon.

The number of customers refers to the number of accounts on record with the power company, which is different than the number of people.

There were widespread outages reported in Gardiner, where 2,300 of 3,200 were without power; Pittston, where virtually all of 1,371 customers were without power; Windsor, where nearly all of 1,257 customers were without power; West Gardiner, where 900 of 1,800 were without power; Wayne, where 750 of 900 were without power; and Chelsea, where 900 of 1,200 were without power.

Other outages were reported in Albion, Belgrade, Benton, Clinton, Farmingdale, Fayette, Hallowell, Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, Mount Vernon, Oakland, Randolph, Readfield, Rome, Sidney, Vassalboro, Vienna and Winslow.

The number of reported power outages has fluctuated, as crews race to restore power in some locations, while new outages are reported.

By 5:30, most of the outages were in the southern part of Kennebec County.

Slick runway closes airport

Waterville’s Robert LaFleur Airport closed Sunday afternoon and remained closed Monday evening, not because of conditions in the air, but because of conditions on the ground, according to Randy Marshall, airport manager.

Flights affected by the closure included a scheduled departure by United Parcel Service.

“That’s the one we’re most concerned about, especially at this time of year,” Marshall said. “But it’s just so unsafe.”

He said workers were waiting for the precipitation to end before touching the runway, in the hopes that early rounds of snow and sleet would prevent the ice from sticking to the pavement.

“If you remove that layer of snow, you’re going to have a big sheet of ice,” he said.

When the runway is plowed, workers will use a special plow truck with blades under the truck body, which use more pressure to scrape the ice away.

The airport can’t use salt or ordinary large-grade sand on the runway, because of concerns about damage to aircraft. Instead, he said he was trying to locate fine-grade sand without any additives that would help provide traction on the ground.

Marshall said it was the most difficult weather event he’s had to deal with in at least three years.

The week ahead

The light freezing rain was predicted to continue through Monday evening,

The freezing temperatures are expected to last until at least the end of the weekend, creating continued problems, according to the weather service.

“The ice isn’t going to go anywhere out of the trees for quite some time,” Kistner said.

Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s or high teens Tuesday. On Wednesday, Kistner said he was expecting a low of zero degrees.

“It’s kind of hard to treat the roads when they’re that cold,” he said.

The early stages of the storm weren’t as bad as initially expected Sunday, because a cold front hadn’t yet made it to the region.

“When the bulk of the moisture came through yesterday, a lot of areas weren’t even below freezing yet,” Kistner said. In the southwest portion of the state, a lot of the rain that fell didn’t freeze.

The ice storm is not as fierce as was originally feared but it is lasting longer than expected.

On Monday afternoon, the weather service extended an ice storm warning for the fourth time, to 7 p.m.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287 mhhetling@centralmaine.com Twitter: @hh_matt
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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

LINES DOWN: The Waterville Fire Department closed down a section of Main Street in downtown Waterville Monday afternoon after a branch broke under the strain of heavy ice.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

LINE CLEARING: Andrew Powers, an arborist with Asplundh Tree Experts, clears power lines from iced branches along Mayflower Heights Drive in Oakland on Monday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

ICY ROADS: Southbound traffic creeps down Interstate 95 in Waterville on Monday. The recent ice storm has made travel on the roads and by foot treacherous the last two days.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans



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