With below-zero wind chills at times and snow that started out as fine powder, Sunday’s storm left no doubt that winter had arrived in The County.
Snowfall totals ranged from 10-19 inches throughout Aroostook County. According to reports by the National Weather Service in Caribou, the final tally at the Caribou Municipal Airport was 16.4 inches, with Presque Isle reaching 18.7 inches and Houlton reporting 16.8. On Monday morning snowfall was reported at 16-18 inches in areas north of Caribou and 14 and lower in Mars Hill and points south.
Rich Norton, NWS meteorologist at NOAA’s Caribou office, said the first significant storm of the season brought some “miserable” road conditions. “It was just not a pretty day,” he said. “The winds were not really that bad, about 10-15 mph, but the problem was the snow was a really fine powder.”
As recorded in Caribou, temperatures were cold, as well, at a low of minus 13 late Saturday rising to around 0 when the snow began. Wind chills were as low as minus 11 early Sunday morning and ranged from negative 6 to 5 degrees above throughout the storm.
Elsewhere, Presque Isle recorded temperatures with highs in the single digits and the coldest wind chill at 16 below zero Sunday. Farther south, Houlton recorded freezing fog, with temperatures warming to 17 above Sunday evening.
Maine Department of Transportation personnel were out in full force with split crews throughout the storm to keep up with the piling snow, said Mark Ireland, superintendent of operations at the MDOT division office in Presque Isle.
“It was a little hard to keep up with,” he said, explaining that the cold temperatures presented another problem: Salt doesn’t work as well in extreme cold. “We used salt in places, but we sanded in spots, as well,” said Ireland.
Major roads were cleared for Monday morning traffic, and Ireland indicated the cleanup process was aided by crews working continuously to keep up with the storm. “When we got sun, that helped, and then it was a matter of getting the temperatures up there so the salt would work for us.”
Road conditions and impaired visibility were the apparent cause of one significant accident Sunday afternoon, a multi-vehicle pileup on U.S. Route 1 in Monticello, but otherwise the storm resulted in relatively few accidents. Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan said there were three minor accidents his department handled, mainly involving sliding through some intersections.
Presque Isle Deputy Police Chief Laurie Kelly said no accidents were reported during the storm, and only one minor mishap occurred on Monday morning, where there was no personal injury and very little vehicle damage.
Both she and Gahagan urged motorists to travel safely now that winter has arrived. They emphasized the importance of keeping windows clear for best visibility, as well as allowing plenty of time to reach one’s destination.
“Give yourself time to get where you’re going. Especially after storms, the roads are passable but not always cleaned up, and built-up snow on the road can lead to sliding,” Kelly said.
She called for caution on town streets as well. “The driving public needs to be aware that pedestrians may be coming from behind snowbanks,” Kelly advised. “Pedestrians need to use the crosswalks, because people may see them and be trying to stop, but can’t.”
“Be mindful of the conditions, and don’t be in a hurry,” noted Gahagan. “It’s also a good idea for people to keep some type of emergency pack in their vehicles, with blankets so they can keep warm if they should become stranded.”
While snow season calls for caution, it also means elation for snowman builders and winter sports enthusiasts alike. Amber Dodge, development coach at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou, was excited at the favorable snowpack.
“We pray for snow, and this is the kind of snow we hope for,” she said. “This is as good as it gets.”
The powder comes at an opportune time because school skiing competitions are getting under way, and so are trials for February’s World Junior Biathlon events at Presque Isle’s Nordic Heritage Center. Skiing had already been taking place at the 10th Mountain Center in Fort Kent. “They did a great job grooming to keep the snow they had, but now we can ski here,” Dodge added.