AUGUSTA — After powerful storms Tuesday downed trees and power lines and severely damaged the roof on the historic Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta, a flood watch was issued Wednesday for central and western Maine as more turbulent weather was expected.

In addition to possible flash flooding, weather forecasters said wind and rain Wednesday could cause further damage, as remnants of Hurricane Beryl move through New England.

“We’re expecting quite a bit of rainfall, potentially, (on Wednesday afternoon and evening), which could lead to some flooding and flash flooding,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jerry Combs said. “It looks like it’ll be between 1 to 3 inches of rain widespread, with the possibility of up to 5.”

On Tuesday, winds gusted to 53 mph in Augusta, with similar speeds recorded throughout the region. The storm toppled trees, knocked down power lines and blocked roadways in Kennebec, Somerset and Oxford counties. Reports of trees and power lines falling began at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, Combs said, with much of the damage occurring in Augusta and eastern Oxford County.

The Kennebec County Courthouse suffered severe damage Tuesday night when one of the building’s chimneys was knocked over during the storm, crashing through the roof and setting off the building’s fire sprinklers.

Workers clean up water Wednesday from a chimney that collapsed Tuesday above the fireplace inside a courtroom at the historic Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The building houses the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office and the county’s registry of probate, and the historic courtroom is where the Maine Supreme Judicial Court meets when in Augusta.


Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said she was working late at the building Tuesday when she heard a bang.

“It was during the storm, when it came bucketing down, when all of  a sudden I heard this ‘kaboom,’ and all the sprinklers started raining down on me,” Maloney said Wednesday. “I initially thought it was rain. I didn’t realize until later it was the sprinkler system.

“I went out into the hallway and saw it was also raining in the hallway — one of the hardest rains I’ve ever been in. I learned later the storm hit the chimney. The chimney broke the roof and just left this big hole and caused the sprinklers to go off.”

Maloney said she was not sure whether the chimney had collapsed into the building due to wind or being hit by lightning. Both were prevalent during the storm.

Kennebec County Administrator Scott Ferguson said the chimney left about a 10-foot hole in the roof.

The hole in the roof was being patched and the water pumped out by Wednesday morning, Ferguson said, as crews worked to prepare the courthouse for more storms later in the day.


A chimney that collapsed Tuesday at the historic Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta broke a water pipe, resulting in widespread water damage, including to the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office, shown above. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Repair efforts are underway. We were planning on replacing the roof anyways this fall,” Ferguson said. “Any type of repair work will have to take into account the historic significance of the building, which is almost 200 years old.”

The courthouse is expected to reopen Thursday, Maloney said, thanks to the county’s quick response to the damage.

Not far from the courthouse, Dale McCormick, an Augusta city councilor and former Maine state treasurer, said lightning struck and toppled a tree in front of her Court Street home, snapping an electrical wire and knocking out power to the neighborhood.

“A (big) branch — 20 feet high — got hit by lightning and came down over a jerry-rigged wire,” McCormick said Wednesday morning. “(The wire) got snapped by the branch falling, and (neighbors) took a picture and showed me last night that it pulled the wire right out of their house.”

Downed power lines also caused internet issues and prompted the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office to temporarily close its office at 73 Winthrop St. in Augusta, according to a social media post. Much of Winthrop Street remained closed to traffic Wednesday morning as crews worked to clear trees from the roadway.

Attempts to reach the Sheriff’s Office and Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday were unsuccessful.


In nearby West Gardiner, a lightning strike at about 7 p.m. Tuesday caused an electrical fire at a home at 48 Moosehill Road, according to Chief Mike Gross of the West Gardiner Fire Department.

A lightning bolt sent a jolt of electricity through a mobile home’s water system, setting part of the building ablaze and displacing its lone occupant, who was not injured in the ordeal.

“Lightning did not strike the residence,” Gross said. “It struck in the area, and we believe it back fed through the well system and caused the fire underneath the mobile home. It was contained to one bedroom and one corner underneath the trailer.”

On Wednesday, temperatures were expected to linger in the mid-80s through much of the region, though the National Weather Service’s heat index showed that high humidity made it feel closer to 90 degrees. The heat index factors together heat and humidity to measure how hot weather feels to the human body, similar to how wind chill measures cold weather.

A series of powerful storms Tuesday caused widespread damage, including downed trees and power lines, across central Maine. Above, a tree limb fell onto the sundial in front of the 195-year-old Kennebec County Courthouse in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Torrential rainfall may cause sporadic flash flooding in the foothills and mountains, Combs said, but wind speeds remain the largest risk factor across Maine.

Storms expected to arrive Wednesday night were remnants of Beryl, a hurricane that has been downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. Beryl is the earliest Category 5 hurricane on record to make landfall in the United States, Combs said. It reached the Texas coastline earlier this week.


Beryl has been described as a likely harbinger of a hyperactive season for hurricanes this year by researchers with Colorado State University’s Tropical Weather and Climate Research Center.

“We’re going to have this almost tropical-like air mass move in from Beryl, and some of it’s already here, so it feels super muggy outside,” Combs said. “As we shift into (Wednesday night), what’s left of Beryl is going to kind of stall up north, near the international border, so were expecting quite a bit of rainfall tonight.”

While it remains to be seen if any hurricane systems make their way to Maine, Combs said storms like those Tuesday and Wednesday are not uncommon this time of year.

“We get warm temperatures and muggy conditions,” he said. “We get showers and storms during the day, and we do at least have a few days of severe thunderstorms during the summer months. Beryl was uncommon, this weather is not.”

Kennebec Journal photojournalist Joe Phelan and staff writer Keith Edwards contributed reporting to this story.

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