Freezing rain and drizzle-covered roads and trees with a layer of ice all day Wednesday, making travel difficult and forcing numerous cancellations and closures across central Maine.

A winter weather advisory warned of slippery conditions in the Kennebec Valley region due to mixed precipitation and ice accumulations of up to two-tenths of an inch, transforming some roads into ice rinks.

The persistent precipitation kept public works crews busy, as sand, salt and plow trucks made their rounds of roads only to have the freezing rain build ice back up again after they passed.

“It’s one of those storms where you just go round and round because you keep getting freezing rain building back up,” said Lesley Jones, Augusta’s public works director, who said the city’s first storm crew came in at 3 a.m. and they were at full staff at 7 a.m. “It’s kind of nasty out there. It’s going to be a nasty 24-hours of travel.”

Northern central Maine, such as the Waterville area, were also seeing snow in the mix of precipitation, while southern central Maine, such as from Richmond to Augusta, were seeing no snow but freezing rain and freezing drizzle Wednesday until late afternoon.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Nikki Becker said up to a quarter-inch of ice could accumulate on flat surfaces but said conditions didn’t seem ripe for a repeat of the historic Ice Storm of 1998 when ice as thick as 3 inches coated trees and other surfaces and caused a massive power outage across the state.

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“Right now we’re not looking at ice storm conditions,” Becker said, noting so far the ice on surfaces in Maine was being measured in tenths-of-inches. “Our saving grace in this is it has been switching between freezing rain and freezing drizzle. And drizzle, though it still accumulates, doesn’t accumulate at the same rate, drizzle droplets are smaller than rain droplets.”

But the thin layer of ice-coated roads and sidewalks, making travel difficult Wednesday and prompted numerous reports of motor vehicle rollovers and crashes.

So while an ice storm seems unlikely, Becker said, “it’s certainly not the funnest of times to have to be out, it is very slick.”

While not a repeat of the 1998 storm, there were plenty of power outages due to the storm Wednesday.

Late Wednesday afternoon Central Maine Power reported 7,058 outages in its service area. Of those, 2,649 were in Kennebec County, 2,222 in Cumberland County, and 1,078 in Sagadahoc County.

Somerset County Emergency Management Director Mike Smith said there was one larger power outage for a short period of time in the afternoon that saw about 800 homes in Norridgewock and 200 in Smithfield go dark.

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The weather conditions brought many cancellations and postponements Wednesday. Courthouses in Kennebec, Franklin, and Somerset counties closed for the day. All state government offices closed for the day, including offices of the state Legislature.

The Augusta State Armory COVID-19 vaccination clinic closed Wednesday due to the storm but was expected to be back open Thursday as scheduled, from noon to 7 p.m.

Most area municipalities, including Augusta, Gardiner, Winthrop, Clinton, Sidney, Thorndike and Mount Vernon, also closed for the day.

Many area schools, including the Oakland-area district of Regional School Unit 18; Maranacook area schools; RSU 2, which comprises Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond; Gardiner-area School Administrative District 11; Sheepscot Valley RSU 12; SADs 49 and 53; and Waterville and Winslow public schools had snow days. Other school districts, like Winthrop, scheduled a remote learning day for Wednesday.

Several crashes were reported on central Maine roads, including reports of vehicles rolling over in West Gardiner and Monmouth.

A snowplow leads traffic Wednesday onto the icy and slush-covered bridge that connects Winslow with Waterville. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Somerset County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Mike Mitchell said there were about a dozen car crashes, mostly “fender benders,” on Wednesday.

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Mitchell said the roads can be deceiving because there are some sections that are slippery and some that are not. He advised motorists to use caution or stay off the roads if possible.

“The roads are treacherous right now,” Mitchell said.

Smith said there had not been too many crashes until around 2 p.m. when more reports started coming in. At around 3 p.m., he said there were four open crashes in the county, mostly “slip-and-slides” where vehicles leave the roadway due to icy conditions and become stuck.

None of the crashes have involved serious injuries. “There hasn’t been much major,” Smith said.

A man walks atop ice forming on a sidewalk Wednesday in downtown Gardiner. Rain froze across Maine as temperatures hovered around the freezing mark. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

While temperatures were expected to increase somewhat late in the day Wednesday, they were expected to drop following the storm, with highs in the 20s Thursday and temperatures Friday morning in the teens.

Jones, public works director in Augusta, warned motorists to be on the lookout for black ice during the Thursday morning commute.

Becker, of the weather service, said there is a chance of a little snow in parts of Maine, mostly the southern area of the state, Thursday night into Friday morning, but nothing significant. And there may be some snow on Christmas Day, on Saturday. Temperatures on Christmas Day are expected to start in the low teens or single digits and rise to around freezing.

She said people traveling before the holiday to get to Christmas festivities elsewhere shouldn’t have problems with the weather, at least not in northern New England.

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