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December 24, 2020

Maine utilities gear up for Christmas storm, but timing may spare other businesses

Courtesy / CMP

A Christmas gift of driving wind and heavy rain may create havoc for Maine utility companies, airports and some businesses — and perhaps even Santa Claus.

Winter Storm Harold, which caused blizzards in the Midwest, was making its way east and expected to hit Maine late Thursday night, the National Weather Service said. The hazardous weather will continue through Friday evening. 

High wind and flood watches were issued for much of the state. Because of unusually warm temperatures, Maine won’t see snow, but predictions called for up to 2.5 inches of rain and more than 3 inches in mountain regions. The forecast also included winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts up to 60 mph.

Because of the storm’s timing, businesses closed for the holiday may be spared the brunt of Harold’s impact. But some companies are gearing up, and holiday travelers could be affected too.

Maine’s two largest electric utilities were taking precautions in advance of Harold. It will be the third major storm to hit the state this month and comes just a week after Winter Storm Gail dropped over 2 feet of snow in parts of Cumberland and York counties.

On Wednesday, Central Maine Power Co., which serves 620,000 customers across much of the state, said a full complement of line crews, tree workers and support staff would be working over the holiday. In addition, 75 contracted crews were also ready to respond to anticipated power outages.

“CMP will be ready to go as soon as the storm hits and will do our utmost to respond with the speed of repair we have demonstrated in every major storm this year,” Executive Chairman David Flanagan said in a news release.

Versant Power, which delivers electricity to 159,000 customers in northern and eastern Maine, made a similar pledge and urged caution.

“As we prepare our crews for a storm beginning Christmas Eve, we encourage the public to prepare for the possibility of power outages as well as difficult travel conditions,” said David Norman, Versant storm manager, in a news release. “With such strong winds in the forecast, it is possible that conditions will be unsafe for our line crews, which may delay restoration times.”

On Thursday morning, Portland International Jetport had already posted a notice warning that flights on Friday might be affected by high winds. But so far, arrivals and departures appeared on schedule there, as well as at Bangor International Airport.

It was not clear yet if the weather would affect Thursday evening’s scheduled flight of Claus and his eight tiny reindeer.

Inclement Christmas weather isn’t unusual in Maine, but the storms typically deliver snow.

Three years ago, a Dec. 25 blizzard brought more than a foot of snow to the Lewiston-Auburn region as well as southern Maine towns like Buxton. Bangor received 8.7 inches, just a half-inch under the total it got on Dec. 25, 1938, the city’s snowiest Christmas on record.

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