Emergency officials are warning Mainers to stay off the roads and prepare for power outages as a strong storm expected to bring blizzard conditions is moving into the state Thursday morning.

Snow began falling in southern Maine before dawn and will be widespread and falling heavily by late morning. Blizzard conditions with strong wind gusts and visibility of less than a quarter mile will make driving treacherous for much of the day.

Schools, municipal and state offices and businesses across the state announced storm closings and parking bans ahead of the storm.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for coastal York County and all of Cumberland, Androscoggin, Kennebec, Waldo and other coastal counties stretching to Down East Maine.

“There will be a lot of blowing and drifting snow,” said Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the weather service in Gray. “Visibility will be reduced to less than a quarter mile and traffic will be very difficult. It will be hard to see the cars in front of you driving down the road.”

Gov. Paul LePage issued a statement Thursday morning that all state of Maine offices would be closed for the day.

“Avoiding unnecessary travel will keep accidents to a minimum and allow state and municipal road crews to safely go about their work,” LePage said in the statement.

The blizzard warning for coastal and eastern Maine and some inland areas is in effect from noon Thursday to 4 a.m. Friday, and a coastal flood warning is in effect from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday. A winter storm warning is in effect for the rest of the state.

Portland and coastal areas are expected to see a total accumulation of 12 to 13 inches, and inland areas between 7 and 13 inches. Down East Maine will see the highest accumulations, with as much as 16 inches expected along the coast.

“The other story will be the winds,” Hawley said.

By Thursday afternoon, sustained winds will be 25 to 30 mph in Portland. Wind gusts of 50 mph at the coast could contribute to minor to moderate flooding. Hawley said winds will be strongest in the afternoon.

Hawley said it is likely Maine will see blizzard conditions, with three consecutive hours of winds 35 mph or stronger and visibility of less than a quarter mile.

The snow and winds are expected to taper off Friday morning, but gusts of up to 40 mph will continue to blow snow around and cause wind chills equivalent to 8 degrees below zero in Portland, the weather service said.

On Saturday, temperatures in the state are expected to drop back to below zero, with a daytime high in Portland of only zero to 5 degrees.

The large storm is pounding the East Coast from Georgia to New England, wreaking havoc on travel. Thousands of flights in the Northeast scheduled for Thursday and Friday have been canceled.

The Portland International Jetport posted an alert on Twitter saying 32 of 37 departures scheduled for Thursday had been canceled in advance of the storm. Several flights on Friday morning have already been canceled.

In the Portland area, Metro bus service will shut down at 11 a.m. Thursday because of predicted blizzard conditions. Service is expected to resume Friday.

Amtrak Downeaster announced it canceled trains 685 and 688, but all other trains are scheduled to operate Thursday. Amtrak officials warned travelers to expect delays. Concord Coach Lines canceled all bus service from Maine, New Hampshire, Boston and New York on Thursday.

The speed limit has been reduced to 45 mph for the entire length of the Maine Turnpike.

Central Maine Power Co. and emergency management officials also were preparing for power outages that could leave Mainers without heat.

CMP issued a statement Wednesday saying it is preparing to respond. The company provides power to most homes and businesses in southern Maine.

“CMP’s storm readiness teams have been holding planning meetings, and the company is pre-positioning personnel and equipment to ensure that adequate resources are in place to restore power outages that might occur as a result of the storm,” CMP’s statement said. “If needed, CMP can also call on resources from the other … companies in Connecticut and New York, as well as contractors and regional mutual assistance partners. The company is coordinating its preparations with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and county emergency management personnel.”

CMP advised customers to keep battery-operated flashlights and radios on hand, along with drinking water and nonperishable foods, and to make sure smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices are fully charged.

The U.S. Coast Guard is warning mariners to stay off the water and issued an intense storm advisory for the Gulf of Maine. The Coast Guard advised pleasure craft and fishing vessels to seek safe refuge.

“The most recent National Weather Service predictions show that sustained winds could reach at least 55 knots (63 mph) offshore in the Gulf of Maine with seas up to 26 feet, and 35 knots (40 mph) along the coast, (with) gusts up to 45 knots (52 mph) and 16-foot seas,” the advisory said.


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