RJ Heller writes that weather swings are taking a toll on traditional Maine life.
Waves wash over the Spring Point Ledge Light as the Peaks Island ferry makes its way across Portland Harbor during a winter storm on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

A major storm besieging much of the central and eastern U.S. is now expected to produce rare hurricane-force winds off the Maine coast.

The National Weather Service has issued a high wind warning for the whole state, while a hurricane force wind warning is in place for the coast and islands. Flood watches are in place from the immediate coast to deep inland.

The storm, expected to last from Friday into early Saturday morning, is being fueled by cold air descending upon the U.S. from Canada. It is expected to bring rain, snow, high winds and rapidly falling temperatures as far south as Mexico and for most of the U.S. east of the Rockies, according to the Associated Press. Rapidly falling low pressure could produce bomb cyclones in places, while other parts of the country could see a 50-degree drop in temperatures.

In Maine, the weather service office in Gray warned of a “rare event” for coastal waters, which may be battered with hurricane-force winds. In response, the weather service has advised mariners to not venture onto the waters, where “extremely strong winds” could capsize and damage vessels.

Maine also could see 2-foot storm surges along the coast, which would be among the largest crests seen since record-keeping began in 1912. News Center Maine’s chief meteorologist, Todd Gutner, said in an early Friday morning tweet that could cause flooding in low-lying areas.

Just after 9 a.m. coastal flooding from storm surges was being reported in communities like Kennebunkport, York and Wells, where police advised drivers to avoid coastal roads.

Meanwhile, the Rockland breakwater was already being inundated before high tide.

The wharves and roads in Portland’s Old Port were flooded mid-morning Friday as high tide rolled in about 10:15 a.m. and heavy rain continued to fall. The weather service issued a flash flood warning for Portland, where high tide was expected to peak above the major flood stage of 14 feet on top of an additional 1 to 2 inches of rain.

On land, the forecast maximum gusts have been elevated since Thursday. Now, gusts up to 55 to 60 mph are expected for Greater Bangor, while 75 to 80 mph gusts are predicted for Bar Harbor, 60 to 65 mph for Machias and 70 to 75 mph for Eastport, according to the weather service station in Caribou.

(Clockwise from left) A a sign marks a submerged parking lot on the Portland waterfront on Friday morning at high tide, while a fisherman runs along the top of nearly submerged pilings as he returns to his boat with coffee and breakfast, and debris floats by a flooded restaurant. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Up to The County, 55 to 60 mph maximum gusts are expected for Houlton, 60 to 65 mph from Presque Isle to Caribou, and 55 to 60 mph along the crown of Maine.

Meanwhile, the weather station in Gray is forecasting gusts to reach as high as 70 mph in Portland and Boothbay Harbor, 61 mph in Belfast, 55 mph in Augusta and 54 mph in Lewiston.

The winds are likely to blow their worst from mid-morning through the afternoon. That raises the possibility for widespread power outages as the day progresses.

“Damaging winds will blow down trees and powerlines. Numerous to widespread power outages are likely. Travel will be difficult, especially for high profile vehicles,” the weather service warned in an advisory.

As of 6:45 p.m., 33,966 customers were without power in Versant Power’s service area. More outages were reported in Central Maine Power country, where 202,945 were without power, the bulk of them in Cumberland and York counties.

Beside the winds, the storm will be hitting Maine with heavy rain, with up to 1.5 to 2 inches forecast for Greater Bangor, Bar Harbor, Machias and Eastport, while 1 to 1.5 inches are expected across much of The County from Houlton to Fort Kent, according to the weather service office in Caribou.

Elsewhere, 1.5 to 2 inches are forecast from Portland to Rockland and 2 to 3 inches around Belfast. Across much of interior and western Maine, up to 2 to 3 inches are expected to fall during the course of the storm, with as much as 3 to 4 inches forecast near Rangeley, the weather service office in Gray reported.

That rainfall coupled with a melting snowpack will present a risk of flooding.

The storm isn’t just hitting Maine with strong winds, heavy rains and risk of flooding. As the day progresses, warmer temperatures will start a rapid slide that increases the risk of flash freezing on untreated surfaces.

The weather service office in Caribou warned temperatures could fall as much as 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit over one to two hours.

For example, between 12 p.m. Friday and 12 a.m. Saturday temperatures will fall from 46 degrees to 24 degrees in Portland, 45 to 28 in Belfast, 50 to 26 in Boothbay Harbor and 40 to 13 in Rangeley, according to the weather station in Gray.

The town of Fort Kent is working with the University of Maine at Fort Kent to provide shelter to people who have lost heating during the storm. Anyone in the area experiencing a prolonged power outage in the next few days, can contact the Fort Kent Police Department at 207-834-5678.

A man leaps from stone-to-stone in a submerged parking lot on the Portland waterfront on Friday morning at high tide. A strong storm with high winds and rain hit the coast. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN