Thousands of homes and businesses across the state remained in the dark Thursday morning after crews from Central Maine Power and Versant Power worked through the night to restore power to customers who lost it during a blustery storm Wednesday.

Wind gusts that exceeded 50 mph tore through the state Wednesday morning. At the peak of the rain and wind storm, more than 114,000 customers lost electricity. A wind speed of 53 mph was recorded at the Portland International Jetport while a 62 mph gust was recorded in Bar Harbor.

Crews were forced to wait until winds subsided before they could safely attempt to restore power, but by midnight their efforts had reduced the number of outages by more than half. As of 10 a.m. Thursday, a total of 25,600 CMP customers were in the dark while about 6,000 Versant customers were without power, according to the company websites.

CMP said most customers should have their power back by Thursday evening. Crews were expected to work through the night, spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett said.

Judy Long, spokeswoman for Versant Power, which serves northern and eastern Maine, gave a less optimistic prediction. In a statement released Wednesday evening, Long said repairs of trees that fell on power lines may continue into Friday.

The National Weather Service in Gray reported south winds of 15 to 30 mph with gusts to 50 mph were bringing down tree limbs and blowing unsecured objects.

The weather service issued a gale warning for Casco Bay and Penobscot Bay that remained in effect until 4 p.m. South winds of 15 to 25 knots with gusts up to 40 knots and seas of 4 to 7 feet were expected.

“Strong winds will cause hazardous seas which could capsize or damage vessels and reduce visibility,” the gale warning said.

Central Maine Power Co. reported more than 104,000 outages at 11:40 a.m., but that number had dropped to 33,100 by midnight.

 

A broken maple branch blocks Vaughn Street in Portland’s West End on Wednesday morning. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

CMP officials say the outages were caused by heavy branches weighed down by foliage that fall onto lines, frequently outside of the company’s regularly maintained trimming zone. Trees that are still full of leaves are heavier and more prone to coming down when they are hit by stronger winds, Hartnett said.

“We did not expect the impacts seen inland based on all forecasts,” Hartnett said. “Augusta had a 49 mph wind gust and that area experienced more outages. We also expected wind gusts of 25 to 35 mph and experienced many gusts over 40 mph. This changes the picture.”

Those strong wind gusts complicated efforts to restore power.

“High winds can prevent crews from safely using the buckets on the trucks. We will address what we can on the ground and with automated tools until line workers can safely go up to the lines in buckets,” said Kerri Therriault, director of electric operations for CMP.

Emergency workers stretch caution tape across a sidewalk on Clark Street in Portland, where a utility pole had partially fallen from high winds Wednesday morning. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Hartnett said field teams were assessing the damage, which includes looking at how long and how many people it will take to make specific repairs. They are also determining the order of repairs, with highest priority going to ensuring all critical care and medical facilities are addressed first, followed by repairs that enable the largest number of customers to come back at once.

The company will begin posting estimated restoration times on its website once those determinations have been made, Hartnett said.

CMP has 100 line crews out making repairs with assistance from 70 in-state contractor line crews. There are also 100 tree crews in the field, according to CMP. The company is also coordinating with county emergency management officials to clear downed wires and debris.

“We have been tracking this event this week and secured contractors to work with us to respond as quickly as we can to the outages the wind will cause today,” Therriault said in a statement.

Spectrum cable and internet service has been interrupted in some areas of the Northeast. Lara Pritchard, a spokesperson for Charter Communications, said “the vast majority” of Spectrum outages are the result of loss of commercial power.

However, the company did not say how many Maine customers are impacted or what parts of the state.

“We also have some physical plant damage due to some falling limbs, and our field crews are out assessing and repairing that now,” Pritchard said.

Pritchard said customers will see their service come back online once commercial power is restored.

“Keep in mind, some customers may still experience loss of service if power is restored at the home, but (power) remains out at the network hub that services their area,” she said.

In Westbrook, police asked drivers to find alternative routes around the area of Saco and Bernadette streets, where a tree and power lines were knocked down during the morning commute.

The rain is much needed in Maine, where several areas are suffering extreme drought and most of the state is in severe drought conditions. The last time Maine had such prolonged and severe drought conditions was in 2002, according to the National Weather Service. Portland received .43 inches of rain from Wednesday’s storm.

The period from May 16 – when precipitation took a downturn – to Sept. 24 was the fourth driest on record in the Portland area since record keeping began in 1871. There were 8.17 inches of rain in the roughly four-month period, which is 7.62 inches below average, according to the weather service.

Warmer weather also contributed to more evaporation from lakes, rivers and streams. Portland experienced its hottest summer on record, with average June, July and August temperatures 3.6 degrees higher than the normal summer temperature in the city.

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