The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Saturday, when a major winter storm is expected to blow quickly up the East Coast, potentially bringing heavy snow and high winds to coastal Maine and other areas in the Northeast.

“Snowfall totals in excess of six inches are becoming increasingly likely (and) the potential exists for more than one foot of snow, depending on the track of the storm,” the weather service said in a statement Thursday.

The notice said that near-blizzard conditions are possible Saturday afternoon and evening, and winds could gust to more than 50 mph. Power outages are possible and the weather service warned that travel during the storm could be “very difficult to impossible.”

Forecasters are still trying to determine the track of the storm – which hadn’t even formed by Thursday afternoon – before deciding when and whether to upgrade the watch to a warning, said Sarah Thunberg, a weather service meteorologist in Gray.

“Everybody’s asking, ‘What’s with the snow?’ ” Thunberg said.

As of Thursday, meteorologists were expecting 8 to 12 inches of snow, mostly along the coast, but Thunberg said that could change Friday as the storm develops and tracks to the northeast.

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A slight shift in the storm track could have a big impact on how much snow Maine gets. If it shifts 100 miles to the east, Thunberg said, the Maine coast might get just a few inches. A track that hugs the coast could mean more than a foot.

Tim Currier said he doesn’t need to consult a weather forecast to know when a major storm is coming; he just watches the customers streaming in to his store.

“It started yesterday,” said Currier, manager of Maine Hardware in Portland.

Currier said customers have been buying shovels, salt, flashlights, batteries and even generators since Wednesday.

“We’re stocking up on stuff, too,” he said. “I just had a truck deliver more salt.”

One customer came in early Thursday and snatched up “a couple of dozen” shovels, Currier said. The customer wasn’t a regular, but Currier suspects the man works for a property management company whose employees will likely spend the weekend digging out customers.

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The forecast didn’t spark an increase in sales at Chad Little Power Equipment in Scarborough, however. General manager Arthur Hewes said the dealership has been sold out of snowblowers since before Christmas.

Hewes said Honda, which makes the snowblowers he sells, cut his order by 40 percent late last year. Instead of the 156 he ordered for the season, he got just 89.

Honda blamed supply chain problems for a shortage of parts for the blowers, leading to cutbacks in manufacturing and the number of machines offered to dealers, he said.

On the plus side, he said, the store is caught up on servicing snowblowers, so customers shouldn’t have trouble getting the machines running Saturday afternoon.

The Washington Post reported that winter storm watches covering more than 35 million people had already been issued by midday Thursday, with Maine added to the watch area later Thursday afternoon.

The watches cover major cities such as Philadelphia, New York, Hartford, Connecticut and Boston, the Post said.

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The Post said that two centers of cold air were headed across North America and expected to overlap Friday.

That strong upper level flow will intensify a coastal storm that forms off the Carolinas on Friday afternoon, and forecasters expect that storm will undergo “bombogenesis” – the term meteorologists use for a rapid, deep intensification of a storm that spreads heavy snow and packs powerful winds.

The storm will roll in after two days of cold temperatures. Thunberg said highs Thursday afternoon only reached the upper teens.

“It was cold, but it is January,” she said.

But, Thunberg said, once Maine gets through this weekend, a bit of a respite is coming, with temperatures late next week expected to rise into the low to mid-40s.

Maine Turnpike crews were loading salt on trucks Thursday and Friday so they can be ready to roll when the snow starts to fall, spokeswoman Erin Courtney said.

The turnpike used to treat the highway with brine ahead of storms but discontinued the practice because it only worked in certain conditions and wasn’t worth the extra cost, she said.

“With the storm we are anticipating, we will have all hands on deck and they are ready for it,” Courtney said. With the storm expected to gear up late Friday and early Saturday, she said, crews will have time to rest up before they are called in.


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