LEWISTON — Happy new year to us all.

The first business day of 2014 was a whopper, with all-day snow and unutterable cold — and forecasters say it will get worse before it gets better.

By midday Thursday, temperatures across the region struggled to get up to zero. By nightfall, it was minus six in Lewiston and the temps were still dropping. If the forecasts hold true, some parts of the state could see their coldest temperatures in three years.

Meteorologists say it could get down to minus 20 overnight in some areas, but the windchill will make it feel even colder. In the mountains, it was expected to drop all the way to minus 35. But, just when you thought you’d spend your day complaining about the cold, the storm dubbed Hercules by the Weather Channel provided plenty of other things about which to gripe.

There were all those closures, for example. Schools just about everywhere canceled classes even as the first flakes of snow were arriving early Thursday morning.

Gov. Paul LePage ordered state offices in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties closed by 2:30 p.m. due to the weather. That meant state and county workers who had made the frigid trip to the workplace had to bundle up and head back home.

Then there was the driving. It was slow going as snow filled the roads and city crews struggled to keep up. Roadside assistance crews were straight-out busy, with some people reporting up to four-hour waits for assistance with dead batteries or related woes.

Plumbers were busy as pipes froze and burst. Police and emergency crews were all over the place, responding to cars that slid into utility poles, into other cars or into the white oblivion of snowbanks.

“I was going to get on 295 in Topsham,” Robin Farrell Sabatino said, “and my car just kept going straight into the snowbank. However, you might as well call it an ice bank.”

The good news: Sabatino was not hurt and another motorist stopped to help her out of the snowbank, proving once again that the goodwill of Mainers cannot be completely frozen.

The Samaritan in question?

“A nice gentleman with a big truck who had a chain to pull me out,” Sabatino said.

The National Weather Service put a wind chill advisory into effect to go along with the blizzard warning. Both warnings stretch into Friday, and the weather service was forecasting a slew of hazards, including blowing snow, whiteout conditions and slick roads.

And the dangerous cold, of course. Weather officials say the risks of frostbite or hypothermia will remain high as long as the temperatures remain low. They advise dressing in layers if you have to be out. Above all, meteorologists recommend staying indoors unless going out is absolutely necessary. If you have to drive, the forecasters said, be sure to have an emergency kit with blankets, lights and food in your vehicle.

Winds were expected to gust up to 45 mph overnight. In Lewiston, those winds began to pick up right around the supper hour, blowing snow in all directions and creating drifts. The thermometer read minus 6 degrees, but with the windchill factor it worked out to minus 27. By 8 p.m., only 3 inches of snow had fallen across Androscoggin County. Two inches had fallen in Oxford County and 5 inches were recorded in the Bridgton area.

Central Maine Power crews were ready to roll, though by nightfall Thursday, only half a dozen customers had lost power.

In the lower parts of New England, many school districts had already canceled Friday classes as Hercules barreled in. It was not clear early Thursday night whether schools in Maine would take the same approach.

The harsh winter weather might be miserable for most, but as is often the case, ski enthusiasts were smiling. More snow means better conditions, and this latest storm promised plenty of that.

“Hercules! Hercules!” trumpeted the Sunday River Ski Area mountain report. “The son of Zeus, known for his extraordinary strength and courage, and now he is here …Well, at least the snowstorm named after him is. Either way, Sunday River welcomes you, good sir. The snow has already started accumulating today and the heavier stuff is just around the corner. We’re expecting about four more inches to fall through the night … Can you say TGIF? So, go ahead Mr. Hercules … Take your shoes off, kick your feet up, bring the snow and stay awhile.”

Which sounds great, if you happen to be reading it on your laptop while sitting in a warm coffee shop. Some skiers were riding out the cold weather before heading to the slopes.

“The skiing is actually pretty good and all of our lifts are running, but people tend to stay inside when it gets this far below zero,” said Ethan Austin, spokesman for Sugarloaf Mountain. “You’ve got to bundle up.”

The cold didn’t deter Andrew Kosak from swinging by Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick to take advantage of a cold-weather promotion: The price of a gelato dropped 1 percent for every degree below freezing.

At one point Thursday, a line of people waited to take advantage of the discount, said Josh Davis, who hatched the idea.

“It’s never too cold for gelato,” Kosak quipped after receiving a 36-percent discount that reflected the minus 4 temperature during an outing with his wife and two daughters.

Really? Hercules?

The Weather Channel has released its list of winter storm names for the 2013-14 season, the second annual rundown of names that will be attached to storms in the upcoming winter weather season.

Developed with the help of a Latin class at Bozeman High School in Bozeman, Mont., the 26 names will be used in alphabetical order to identify strong winter storms that meet the naming criteria. The 2012-13 list for winter storms was the first of its kind to be developed by The Weather Channel, with 27 storms receiving names a year ago.

“The naming program last year was a huge success, with well over a billion impressions on Twitter and regular use by numerous schools, agencies and media outlets,” said Bryan Norcross, senior hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel and the compiler of the list. “It’s simply easier to communicate about a complex storm if it has a name, which our naming program last year demonstrated. And good communication benefits everyone.”

Source: weather.com


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