LEWISTON —As promised, two-feet of snow blanketed Lewiston and surrounding areas Saturday morning and gusting winds were still blowing it around by early afternoon.
According to the National Weather Service in Gray, 23 1/2 inches had fallen in Lewiston by 8 a.m. Snow kept falling and blowing and by noon, those amounts topped two feet.
Central Maine Power said nearly 10,000 customers were without power Saturday morning and crews remained out in full force. By noon, that number had been whittled to 2,900.
The winds, gusting at up to 50 mph, made for drifts up to four feet in places. Meanwhile, winds blew other areas almost clear of snow, skewing perceptions of the storm less-than-affectionally called Nemo.
Most major streets had been cleared of Lewiston Saturday morning, but it promised to be a day of arduous clean-up for anyone with a driveway or a walk.
In Oxford County, 20 inches were recorded in some areas, while others reported less than a foot of snow on the ground. In Franklin County, most cities and towns got off easier – just over nine inches were reported in the Farmington area.
For the most part, the storm delivered what was promised. Saturday was in contrast to the day before when it was just light snow and the winds hadn't started yet.
Just after 4 p.m. Friday, as the storm was just getting started, a group of four children had Marcotte Park in Lewiston all to themselves. It had been snowing all day and the hills were blanketed. Perfect.
"This is my entertainment for the day," said Mike Pierce, the brave soul who brought the children over. "We just had to get out for a little while."
Seconds later, the children were bombing down the hills on snowboards and inflatable tubes. Fresh snow swept over them as they hit one hill after another before landing in the parking lot along Birch Street.
"So cold," said 10-year-old Ashley Moran. "I got snow in my face."
A brief pause.
"Let's go again!"
It's good that someone was enjoying it. After nearly a week of nonstop chatter, Nemo arrived as expected, easing in Friday morning and gathering steam by the minute. By the commuter hour, the storm had intensified and the crashing began.
In Lewiston, the first car wreck was reported at 8:22 a.m. Just a car slipping off the road. Twenty minutes later, there was another. And then another. A half dozen crashes were reported by noon.
"So far, it's an average storm," Lewiston police Lt. David St. Pierre said. "People are being cautious. They're not out on the roads if they don't have to be there."
The police scanner never quieted for very long. Crashes were reported in Lewiston, in Auburn and pretty much everywhere across the tri-county area. The storm was just getting started.
Just about every crash involved slipping, sliding and minor property damage, police said. At about 3:30 p.m., a woman was examined for pain after her car air bags blew open during a minor wreck on the Washington Street rotary in Auburn.
By 5 p.m., about 5 inches of snow had fallen in Lewiston. A total of 7 inches was recorded in Turner and the same amount fell over most parts of Oxford County.
Higher totals were recorded in Cumberland County, where it took almost four hours to clean up a 19-car pileup on Interstate 295 in Cumberland on Friday morning. State police say the chain-reaction crash started when a car spun out in the southbound lane, just north of the Falmouth line, and five other vehicles hit it.
City and town crews plowed nonstop, trying to stay ahead of a storm that's expected to dump more than 2 feet on parts of the state and slightly more on the southern tip. Some businesses closed early, if they opened at all. Most schools canceled classes or dismissed students early. It was a tough call. It was hard to tell when the storm would start bearing down.
Schools in Litchfield, Wales and Sabattus stayed open until the snow started falling in earnest early Friday afternoon. The high school and middle school let students go at 11:15 a.m., and younger students were sent home an hour later.
As it turns out, you can't please everyone. Some people thought students should finish their day, others thought they shouldn't.
"We have had a few calls from angry parents, but not many," RSU 4 Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said. "We always tell parents that they should keep their children home if they don't feel that the conditions are safe to send them to school."
The snow that fell throughout the day Friday was light and fluffy, easy to shovel and perfect for making snow angels. But weather officials were advising that snow is snow, and when it falls on the streets and highways, it becomes slick. They also advised that the worst was yet to come.
Blizzard and flood warnings were in effect overnight. So were parking bans just about everywhere. In Lewiston, parking on public streets was banned from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Sunday.
Central Maine Power reported few problems from dry snow and light winds on Friday. The company will have extra staff on duty overnight and will have personnel at all field locations before daybreak Saturday, when high winds are expected to sweep across the state.
“We don’t expect the wind or snow to cause too many problems through this evening, although we have increased our staffing for the commuting hours and the overnight,” John Carroll, spokesman for CMP, said. “ Our storm response team has prepositioned crews and materials, and all our employees have been put on notice to expect a more challenging day tomorrow. We expect wind gusts in the 50s, and heavy snow to move in by early tomorrow morning. So all of our crews are scheduled to report to field offices by 5 a.m.”
CMP has lined up 68 additional line crews from Maine and Canada plus 130 tree crews to add to the company’s regular contingent of 90 line crews and support personnel.
The list of cancellations, postponements and delays got longer as the day progressed. It was hard to keep up with what was closed and what was not.
All school sports scheduled for Friday were postponed. In Lewiston-Auburn, officials announced late in the day that Citylink buses will not operate at all on Saturday as Nemo's bad side is expected to roar through.
How bad is Nemo going to get? Weather officials say overnight Friday will be the worst. Snow is expected to fall at a rate of 1-3 inches per hour. Winds may begin to gust at up to 50 mph and continue into Saturday afternoon. To add to the joy, the air will remain cold, meteorologists say, with temperatures in the teens as the storm rages on.
At Marcotte Park, Mike Shields and the four children in his care were still sledding as darkness approached. It was fun and no hassles on the hills, much like the ski areas which greeted Nemo with open arms.
"It's snowing, yaaaaaay," bellowed the Sunday River website. "So far we have 6 inches of the lightest snow you'll ever see, and conditions couldn't be better. The best part is there's more snow on the way and sunny skies coming to close out the weekend on Sunday."
The sunny skies part sounds good, anyway.