LEWISTON — Who needs 50-degree weather in January? Wednesday's snow and cooler temperatures returned the reality of winter, with all-day flurries and the familiar sounds of cars laboring through slush.
It wasn't a lot. Less than half a foot fell in most places, but the storm lasted from morning into the evening. If you have a driveway, it needed shoveling. If you own a car, you had to brush the windshield every time you used it. And along with that, the usual headaches: Traffic slowed to a crawl in places, trucks overturned on the highway and cars slipped into ditches.
"Winter is back," said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray.
In most areas, it was still snowing long after dark. By 8 p.m., six inches of snow had fallen across Franklin County while most sections of Oxford and Androscoggin counties saw four inches by Wednesday night.
For police, it was a typical weekday storm. No serious accidents but a lot of them. A whole lot. Between 6 and 9 a.m. in Lewiston, 16 crashes were reported. By 1 p.m., that number was up to 24 before it abated. They were mostly minor traffic mishaps, Lt. David St. Pierre said. Cars and trucks rolled into each other. One rolled into a retaining wall, others spun in circles before crashing into traffic signs or utility poles.
Auburn had similar traffic numbers, with 16 crashes reported before noon. It was the same in all of Androscoggin County, as people drove with great care but crashed, anyway. The roads were slick — "greasy" in the local vernacular.
In Yarmouth, a big rig skidded along I-295 and blocked both southbound lanes. Most cities had parking bans and schools closed early so the kids could get home safely. And when they were free, the kids made the best of it, building snowmen in front yards, grabbing sleds and heading for the hills.
The day was cold contrast to the earlier part of the week, when unseasonably warm weather brought motorcyclists out and a few optimistic souls ventured outdoors in T-shirts. But by the time Wednesday got under way, spring felt like a faraway fantasy again. Daydreams of budding trees and sunny beaches blew away or got buried beneath fresh mounds of snow.
And it only gets worse. There won't be any snowfall on Thursday, but few will question whether winter is still around. Frigid air will remind us.
"There's a cold front coming through," Curtis said. "By Thursday night, we're going down below zero."
Way down, in fact. It's expected to hit minus 5 degrees in the Lewiston area and minus 25 in the mountains. But don't blame Canada this time. The cold front moving in is en route from the other side of the country, Curtis said, where 30-degree temps in Phoenix are the coldest in years.
"We're giving up our heat to the Atlantic," the meteorologist said, "and getting the cold from the West Coast."
It's winter, sure enough. For some, its return is a wonderful thing.
"It's been snowing a nice fluffy blower snow most of the day at The Loaf," ranted the people of Sugarloaf Mountain ski area, on the company website, "and it sure is a welcome change of pace from the January thaw we suffered through."
Suffer no more, ski bunnies. Cold is coming and more snow is in the forecast for the weekend. Winter grinds on. If you're tired of it — if you just can't wait to put the shovels and snow boots away, do the math and try to make it look good.
Only 36 days until the first games of spring training. And seriously: Can the first robin be far behind?
According to The Weather Channel, winter storm Helen will move off the Northeast coast Wednesday afternoon. Snow will end in most places during the afternoon with the exception of Maine where snow will continue through the evening. Snowfall totals of 3 to 6 inches are likely before this is all over from Central Pennsylvania through Southeast New York/Southern Vermont and New Hampshire to Downeast Maine.