PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Heavy bands of snow and strong wind gusts prompted a rare blizzard warning Thursday with blowing snow to be followed by the coldest weather in three years — conditions severe enough that even skiers reconsidered going outside and utility officials feared more power failures following the Christmas week ice storm.
Outside Portland, the Smiling Hill cross-country ski center closed for the day, saying bitter cold and wind gusts made conditions too dangerous even for winter sports enthusiasts.
"It sounds counterintuitive to close cross-country skiing and snowshoeing due to snow and a blizzard. But if you get people on the trail in whiteout conditions, there's a possibility they can't make it back. Then it's a rescue operation," said Warren Knight, president of the 500-acre farm, explaining the decision to close.
Across Maine, blowing snow, coastal flooding and bitter cold were in the forecast, with temperatures expected to plummet to 30 to 35 below zero Friday night in the mountains for the coldest weather since January 2011, said John Cannon, meteorologist from the National Weather Service office in Gray.
The weather service issued a blizzard warning late Thursday afternoon as visibility dropped with blowing snow and gusts of 35 to 40 mph.
Even mariners were not immune from danger.
A freezing spray advisory was in effect for commercial fishing boats operating in the North Atlantic, where temperatures were so cold that fishing boats could accumulate nearly an inch of ice per hour, Cannon said.
The snowfall began Thursday morning, sending some vehicles sliding off roads during the morning commute. Conditions continued to deteriorate to the point Gov. Paul LePage sent workers home early in nine counties.
By the time the storm ends, parts of southeastern New Hampshire and southern Maine could see more than a foot of snow.
Electric utilities that had to deal with 160,000 power failures during the ice storm last week said crews were ready to return to work to restore power if winds gusting to 35 mph caused more problems.
On Thursday, most people were simply staying inside to stay warm. That included all but the hardiest of skiers.
"The skiing is actually pretty good and all of our lifts are running. But people tend to stay inside when it gets this far below zero," said Ethan Austin, spokesman for Sugarloaf. "You've got to bundle up."
The cold didn't deter Andrew Kosak from swinging by Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick to take advantage of a cold-weather promotion: The price of a gelato drops 1 percent for every degree below freezing.
At one point, a line of people waited to take advantage of the discount, said Josh Davis, who hatched the idea.
"It's never too cold for gelato," Kosak quipped after receiving a 36-percent discount that reflected the minus-4 temperature during an outing with his wife and two daughters.