RUMFORD — Talk about system shock. One day rivers and streams in the Androscoggin River Watershed are turning to ice and the next, flushing it all down river during a sudden warm-up and heavy rainfall.
The culprit this time was a fast-moving low pressure system packing unseasonably warm southerly winds that dumped up to an inch and a half of rain across Western Maine, Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Wednesday morning.
Rivers and streams "haven't gone above flood stage right now from what we're seeing, but the Swift was the closest one that we had," Kistner said of the flashy Swift River that empties into the Androscoggin River on the Rumford-Mexico line.
"I think they had an ice jam somewhere in there. It's going back down now, but it crested at a little above 5 feet, so yeah, it was an interesting little storm."
"The water looked like it was coming up pretty fast on the Swift around 8 this morning, but it was still not close to the road," Rumford police Sgt. Doug Maifeld said.
Kistner said the storm tracked across New Jersey and the Hudson Valley, and then shot up the Connecticut River and into Maine, dragging warm air with it.
"Whenever you're on the east side of these things, it's all southerly flow and that's where it dragged up the warm moist air, unlike the usual storms that track out along the coast — like your typical Nor'easter — and those are on the cold side, so they're all snow," he said.
Tuesday night's storm brought a mix of freezing rain, sleet, snow, and heavy rain before temperatures shot up from 32 degrees to almost 50 by Wednesday morning from Rumford to Dixfield.
"My driveway was a big pile of mud this morning," Kistner said.
The freeze-thaw cycle is expected to continue into next year, starting Wednesday evening.
"We're looking at a nice little Arctic blast here for the evening into tonight, so anything that's still on the roads most likely is going to freeze, and we could have some black ice issues and we're even issuing some wind chill advisories for our northern counties this evening," Kistner said.
"It looks like temperatures are going to fall below zero from gusting northwest winds, so we could see wind chills like in the minus 20, minus 25 range tonight."
The next chance of snow comes on New Year's Eve morning, but Kistner's only expecting about 3 inches to fall in the Rumford area. Another small snowstorm will follow on Monday.
"There's no big snowstorms or anything like that in the near future," he said.
"What's going to happen is we'll have this Arctic air coming in for pretty much tonight, and then we'll see a brief warm-up this weekend, and then after this weekend, Tuesday into Wednesday, we have a real cold outbreak.
"Temperatures will likely end up going below zero again."