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Power outages, downed trees expected in Maine even as Hurricane Lee tracks eastward

National Hurricane Center

The director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency is urging people to not to let down their guard as Hurricane Lee closes in on the coast.

Meteorologists say Lee has taken a favorable nudge eastward and that its power may dissipate as it crosses colder waters, but MEMA Director Pete Rogers said that the storm is so massive that the state is all but assured to see damage from it.

"That wind field is over 300 miles long, so the state will get damages. We will lose power," he said.

Rogers was speaking alongside Gov. Janet Mills, who visited MEMA's control center in Augusta as the agency ramps up for Lee's arrival.

He said one of the biggest concerns is tree damage after an exceptionally wet summer. Weakened root systems and trees in full canopy will be especially vulnerable to high winds.

Mills has called a state of emergency and requested a preemptive Emergency Disaster Declaration from President Joe Biden, which the president has granted.

"We did this preemptively, with good reason, so that we'll be prepared ahead of time before damage occurs. Simple as that," she said.

The governor says the early declaration will help the state coordinate with federal authorities much sooner and hasten recovery efforts.

Maine's electric utilities are adding hundreds more tree crews in anticipation of major power outages.

Marissa Minor, the communications lead for Versant Power, said the utility has contracted to bring in extra line crews from Canada and other New England states, and will have a total of 100 crews available throughout the week.

Minor said Versant will focus on the coastline and the greater Bangor region, which are forecast to experience the strongest wind gusts.

"All of Downeast is looking like it will be a hard-hit area, so we have extra crews stationed there. But we have crews, of course, stationed through our entire service territory, northern, Eastern Maine, ready to respond," she said.

Minor warned that crews could be delayed in getting up in bucket trucks if winds stay above 35 mph.

Central Maine Power says it's bringing in about 800 crews from out-of-state.

State officials are urging Mainers to take precautions when cleaning up downed trees, branches and other debris and to leave disentangling branches and power lines to local power companies.

Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry spokesman Jim Britt said storm cleanup can often reveal the presence of invasive pests, such as the Asian long-horned beetle or the hemlock woolly adelgid, on downed branches.

"The worst case scenario is somebody piles the debris into their car, travels some place else with it, disposes of it and in doing so is moving that invasive pest around the state," he said.

Britt said anyone who suspects damage from invasive pests should take photos of the debris and share them with the Maine Forest Service.

Here's the latest from the National Hurricane Center, as of 5 p.m. Friday:

"At 1100 PM AST (0300 UTC), the center of Hurricane Lee was located near latitude 39.5 North, longitude 65.8 West. Lee has been moving toward the north-northeast near 20 mph (31 km/h) over the past few hours. A north to north-northwest motion is forecast to resume later tonight, and this motion at a faster forward speed is expected through Saturday. On the forecast track, the center of Lee will continue to approach the coast of New England and Atlantic Canada through Saturday. Lee is then expected to turn toward the north-northeast and northeast and move across Atlantic Canada Saturday night and Sunday.

Lee is a very large and dangerous storm. Maximum sustained winds, based on Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft data, are near 80 mph (130 km/h) with higher gusts. Some gradual weakening is forecast, with Lee expected to become extra-tropical on Saturday.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 115 miles (185 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 345 miles (555 km). NOAA Buoy 44011 located about 205 miles (180 km) north of the center has recently reported a peak one-minute sustained wind of 47 mph (76 km/hr) and a gust of 67 mph (107 km/hr).

The estimated minimum central pressure is 965 mb (28.50 inches) based on data from the Air Force Hurricane Hunter aircraft."

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.
Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.

Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.