LEWISTON – Late afternoon in the Twin Cities. It was Nemo minus 24 hours and the shopping centers buzzed with activity.
At Hannaford in Lewiston on Thursday afternoon, an older woman walked from the store to her car. In one hand she held a cane and in the other, a few bags of groceries. Stocking up in preparation of the storm?
"No, this is just regular shopping," she said, heaving the bags into the back seat of her car. "I did my shopping for the storm yesterday. I'm all set for that."
With that, she drove off, a full day ahead of most everybody else.
By the supper hour, the aisles were thick with shoppers just about everywhere. Weather forecasters have advised that the coming storm will be a big one and folks are listening.
At Hannaford, Bryan McDonald pushed a shopping cart heaped with goods while his wife pushed a baby carriage. They have a 7-week-old child to consider. They don't want to be left unprepared when the storm named Nemo comes to do its thing.
"Water, canned goods, and snacks in case we lose power," Bryan said. "Those are the main things."
They want to be safe, yes. But like others, they hope that by the time the storm is upon us, they might be in good shape to enjoy it a little, too.
"We're probably not going to leave the house until Sunday," said his wife, Brittany. "We've got movies, we've got tons of board games and we've got a wood stove. We've got pretty much everything we need."
The grocery stores were doing a brisk business but the crowds didn't smack of desperation the way they sometimes do. Maybe it's because by February, Mainers have becoming accustomed to the wet, white poundings from above. Most of them were in good moods. They were having fun with it.
"Stocking up for the storm? I sure am," said Victor Gaudreau, doing his shopping at Shaw's in Lewiston. "I got the scallops, I've got the salmon and I've got pizza. Although they only reason I got the pizza is because it was on sale."
He'll survive the storm one way or another, Gaudreau figures. If he runs out of something, that's his own problem. If the creatures of the house find their bowls empty, that's another issue altogether.
"I've got to get cat food," he said. "The cat needs to eat. If you don't have enough food for them, they'll drive you crazy."
He wasn't alone. At Shaw's, cat food seemed to be moving just as quickly as the other staples, such as bread and eggs and toilet paper.
The store was still busy at 8 p.m.
Weather forecasters say the storm has the potential to be historic. And if not historic, at least significant. At least a foot of snow is coming, meteorologists say, and it could amount to more like two feet by the time all is said and done.
Along with the snow, winds of up to 65 mph are expected. It will be inconvenient for some and dangerous, too.
To many, that's just big talk. While they appreciate the significance of the approaching blizzard, they are also fond of pointing out that big blizzards are not uncommon this time of year and especially in this part of the country.
"I heard on the radio on the way over here that we're going to get between 18 and 24 inches of snow," said Gaudreau. "It's February in Maine. That's a typical snowstorm, nothing more."
If you don't buy into the "Snowpocalypse" frame of mine, you can at least acknowledge the pain the storm brings for anyone trying to plan an event.
At Bates College in Lewiston, a folk festival planned for Friday and Saturday had to be postponed, probably until spring.
The people of L/A Arts, one day after suggesting the show might go on, changed their minds and canceled the highly anticipated Ladysmith Black Mambazo show slated for the weekend.
"Due to inclement weather," stated the message on L/A Art's Facebook page, "and our concern for the health and safety of our patrons, we have decided to reschedule Ladysmith Black Mambazo until a later date; it is looking to be late June or early July. Nice, warm, sunny weather is the perfect complement to a night filled with music."
School officials were trying to be open-minded about things. The temptation is to cancel classes immediately and be done with it. But with Maine weather being what it is, most school officials were sticking to the wait-and-see approach.
"We considered calling it off tonight," said Lewiston School Superintendent Bill Webster Thursday afternoon, "but the forecast changed significantly from this morning so we will wait until our early morning routine."
Police, on the other hand, are going for it, announcing parking bans well in advance of the first flake. In most cities and towns, bans go into effect starting Friday afternoon and they won't be lifted until Sunday.
Central Maine Power likewise can't afford to simply wait to see what happens. By the middle of the day Thursday, utility trucks were fueled and equipped and CMP personnel were holding planning sessions to discuss staffing levels and other matters.
“We’ve put our storm response plan into motion and we’re watching the forecast closely,” said John Carroll, spokesman for Central Maine Power. “High winds are always a concern and the moisture content of the snow can make a bigger difference than the overall snowfall. We expect deep snow on the roads and tough working conditions, so we’re getting crews, equipment and materials in place to respond.”
In addition, Carroll said: “Everyone should stay clear of any downed power lines or fallen trees that may be tangled in the lines. These lines should be considered live and dangerous. Customers should leave the clean-up to our crews, who are trained and equipped to handle these situations safely.”
On Facebook, in grocery stores and around water coolers, several pointed out that it's been almost exactly 35 years since Maine and the rest of New England got buried in what has come to be known as the "Blizzard of '78" or even "The Great Blizzard."
In most areas, more than two feet of snow fell and sustained winds were recorded at 86 miles per hour. The storm lasted 33 hours, leaving thousands without power and 54 people dead. Today, experts say the impact of that storm was particularly damaging because of lack of warning about the storm's severity.
However the Blizzard of '13 works out, lack of warning doesn't seem to be an issue. Weather services have been tracking the storm for a week and news agencies just about everywhere have been covering since Tuesday. Instant media and Internet sharing means the latest news is minutes old, not days.
On Facebook Thursday night, every other post seemed to pertain one way or another to the coming blizzard.
"I'm pretty psyched about the upcoming storm," one woman wrote. "I've got three teenagers at home. It's not like I'm gonna be shoveling or anything."