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Maine Escapes Ice Storm, Another Storm on the Way

A week after the 25th anniversary of the great ice storm of 1998, Maine was potentially staring down another major ice storm. For a span of about 12 hours from Sunday evening to Monday morning, January 15-16, it looked like Maine could be staring at another major ice storm.

While the amounts forecast to accumulate on Monday were not to the level of 1998 (or 2008 for that matter), the state was still looking at the possibility of tree damage and widespread multi day power outages.

On Monday morning, the precipitation began as sleet and snow across most of the state. Throughout the morning hours, ice amounts in the forecast began to come down from their three quarters on an inch forecast Sunday evening, but accumulations remained in the forecast, with sleet expected to turn to freezing rain in the afternoon.

AT this point, NESC changed the headline on the top of this site from "Maine ice storm begins" to "messy storm arrives" as ice just was not accumulating. The afternoon came, and the sleet was still coming down hard, mixing at times with freezing rain.

At this point, it was becoming clearer and clearer that this storm was not destined to be a major ice storm, much to the delight of residents. Freezing rain did fall, ice did accumulate, but it was not nearly enough to be considered a significant ice storm.

What was becoming rather significant was the sleet accumulation. In total, between 4-6 inches of sleet fell, which is a huge amount of those ice pellets. The sleet was pinging off everything and piling up in driveways, walkways and roads.

In a Sunday night post, I wrote that Mainers, especially those in Downeast and the mid coast, should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Well, the worst was definitely avoided. I wouldn't go as far to say that the 'best' occurred. Six inches of sleet certainly isn't ideal, but it's certainly better than the disaster that a major ice storm can be with broken trees and prolonged power outages in the dead of winter.

Maine's peak power outage occurred in mid-afternoon, with just over 1,600 customers without power. This is a much lower number than I was anticipating. Of course, a sleet storm will not have much of an impact on the power grid and that is what Maine got.

Ice storms are very complex weather events that are hard to forecast. There are many moving parts to these kinds of storms, a very specific setup needs to occur. Maine just did not get the setup quite right. There was just not enough warm air at elevation to melt all the snowflakes completely.

Sleet occurs when snowflakes only partially melt when they fall through a shallow layer of warm air. The drops then refreeze as they next fall through a deep layer of freezing air above the surface. Freezing rain on the other hand is when snowflakes fall through a deeper layer of warm air and melt completely. The super cooled droplets then freeze on impact when they hit surfaces below freezing at ground level.

WINTER PRECIPITATION CHART (from the National Weather Service)

New England's active pattern will continue. After two quiet days on Tuesday and Wednesday, a storm will impact the region Thursday night into Friday. Snow will be the dominant precipitation type for northern New England while southern New England is looking at yet another winter washout.

Yet another storm could head New England's way early next week, possibly Monday night. There is still a lot of variability with this one this far out, though.



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