Sep. 16—The number of power outages climbed dramatically Saturday as Lee hit Maine, and a number of flights out of Portland Jetport were cancelled due to high winds.
Statewide, the number of Central Maine Power outages jumped to 51,684 at noon, a time when wind gusts were picking up.
Knox and Waldo counties were hit the hardest, but Cumberland County was not escaping the pain with 5,056 outages before noon, as reported by CMP's outage list.
Lee weakened to a nor'easter before the storm's edge scraped the state's coastline late Friday and Saturday, but high winds were still expected to cause problems.
The biggest concern is downed trees from wind gusts. In Cape Elizabeth, Shore Road was closed due to a fallen tree. In Bath, where multiple roads were closed, city police advised drivers to stay off roadways if possible as crews respond to "multiple electrical hazard throughout the county" due to downed trees and power lines.
In Rockland, a region hit hard, power outages are widespread. A Rockland public services worker was hurt on upper Cedar Street when a tree limb crashed on him, causing shoulder injury as he cleared debris.
According to National Weather Service meteorologist Sarah Thunberg, the storm entered the Gulf of Maine on Friday night. It is expected to make landfall in Nova Scotia and Yarmouth, Canada, late in the morning or early afternoon.
"The winds are steadily increasing throughout the morning, as well as the rain showers," Thunberg said. "They're starting to pick up. Basically what we've been watching is the storm is on approach and behaving just as we thought it would."
As of 9 a.m. along Maine's coast and on the islands, winds measuring up to 40 to 50 mph have been reported.
"That's going to pick up as the morning goes along," Thunberg said, with wind gusts up to 50 mph expected for much of the state. Southern Maine isn't getting hit with heavy rain, but "the Down East area is getting rained on pretty good right now."
The storm should be strongest around noon, she said, adding the winds should diminish as the afternoon matures.
Southern and western Maine are on the west side of the storm's eye, which is bringing dry air from the north and evaporating some of the rain as it falls, Thunberg said: "The further east you are, you'll see heavier amounts of rain."
Central Maine Power spokesman Jonathan Breed said the final steps of storm preparation took place early in the day. Additional line workers are in place and spread across the state.
"We expect winds to pick up later this morning, with the strongest winds coming late morning and through the afternoon," he said in an email. "The strongest winds have been along the coast," he said, adding that there have been some rain bands inland all the way up to Canada, "which could account for outages beyond the coast."
At noon there were 51,684 CMP customers without power. The outages numbered 6,184 in Knox County and 7,452 in Waldo County. Androscoggin County had 4,645 customers without power, according to the company.
Portland city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said she has had no major reports of problems from the storm, "just two small limbs down."
At the Portland Jetport, early morning flights were able to take off Saturday, but a number were canceled due to winds.
"We've had about 50% of our flights cancelled," said Jetport Assistant Director Zach Sundquist. "We did have quite a few departed this morning that got out. The airlines are still hoping to bring some arrivals in tonight assuming the winds are acceptable for them to land. It's a matter of how hard the wind is blowing."
Frontier and Breeze canceled all flights out of Portland on Saturday. Other airlines that called off some flights included United, JetBlue, American Airlines and Delta. Most of the cancelations were the smaller, regional jets, Sundquist said, adding normal operation is expected on Sunday.
The National Weather Service discontinued a hurricane watch for Down East Maine on Friday night after the potential path of the giant storm narrowed and shifted to the east.
Lee transitioned from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds in Maine, but the meteorological designation is not a downgrade in how the storm will impact Maine, the NWS station in Gray cautioned Saturday.
Winds will be the biggest concern with Lee. Much of the state has saturated ground from such a wet summer, which weakens and stresses trees. In addition, trees still have all their leaves, so winds can create more downed trees, damage and outages. Gusts of 40 to 50 miles per hour today are expected to cause power outages.
President Biden approved an emergency declaration request in Maine ahead of Lee's expected impacts on the state. Gov. Janet Mills declared a state of emergency Thursday in anticipation of the storm and asked Biden to issue the Presidential Emergency Disaster Declaration, which would allow the state to access federal resources and personnel to assist with the storm response.
"While the hurricane has recently been downgraded, to me it is unusual to see a 300-mile width span of tropical-strength winds that can be extremely damaging to the state of Maine and other places the storm is likely to affect," Mills said Friday.
The weather service issued a coastal flood advisory for high tide Saturday, which will be in the early afternoon. The storm is expected to have a more significant impact Down East compared to other portions of the state. The region may receive as much as 4 inches of rain over the course of the storm.
While the sun might be out in parts of the state Saturday afternoon, people should not head to the state's beaches to watch the surf because a storm surge is still expected, with high waves and dangerous conditions, said Peter Rogers, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth, the home of the Portland Headlight, was closed Saturday due to the storm.
Officials in coastal towns are telling people to stay away from beaches and areas that frequently flood during storms.
Biddeford's public beaches will be closed through Sunday morning and parking will be prohibited in all beach parking areas.
In York, Long Sands, Short Sands, Cape Neddick and Harbor beaches will be closed until sunrise Sunday. Officials warn that water rescue by local, state or federal emergency responders will most likely not be possible during the storm.
York police expect to close low-lying coastal roads — including Long Beach Avenue and Ocean Avenue — because of the forecasted storm surge and splash over at high tide. The town has closed the gates at Mount Agamenticus and Sohier Park at Nubble Light through sunrise Sunday.
All beaches in Ogunquit and the Marginal Way will be closed through 5 a.m. Sunday. Police plan to monitor Perkins Cove and will close that area if the storm causes safety issues.
The First Parish Church on 425 Congress St. in Portland will be open to homeless individuals from 7 a.m.to 7 p.m. Saturday. First Parish has the capacity to shelter as many as 150 people during the day Saturday. Other emergency shelters could open as the storm goes on.
Open shelters will be listed on the Maine Emergency Management Agency's website or can be found by calling 2-1-1 to find out if there are any open emergency shelters.
This story will be updated. Courier-Gazette staff writer Steve Betts contributed to this report.