In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Gov. John E. Baldacci said Maine is in a ready state of preparedness in advance of Hurricane Earl, which is expected to begin impacting the state around midnight Friday, Sept. 3.

Areas of impact, Baldacci said late Thursday, are expected to be coastal Hancock and Washington counties, with a potential for tropical storm waves and winds between 38 and 73 mph.

Baldacci held the teleconference alongside his chief of staff, Jane Lincoln, and Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Robert McAleer at 3:15 p.m. The governor said his office has been in contact with federal and state partners, as well as local Emergency Management Agency people, in an effort to keep lines of communication open to the public.

“We want people to know that everything is in coordination, and to rest assured that we are prepared,” said Baldacci. “We have been through storms like this before, this is not the first. And the next 18 hours will be very critical as the storm recurves.”

Once the storm arrives late Friday night, Baldacci said it is expected to exit quickly into the Bay of Fundy.

Baldacci said the federal EMA has prepositioned people and assets in the state, and that manpower from the Maine State Police, Marine Patrol, Forestry Service and other agencies are all on alert and ready.

McAleer said in addition to state agencies being put on alert to respond if and when necessary, other necessary entities, from grocers and rail lines to power and communications companies are in preparation and coordination mode.

“We recognized the importance of leaning forward and being prepared,” said Baldacci. “We want people to be mindful that what could happen over the next 18 hours is very critical.”

Baldacci urged Mainers to stay informed by listening to the radio and television, communicating with each other and checking the state’s online resources for emergencies and emergency preparedness.

McAleer said that “tricky piece” of how the storm will play out for Maine is due to a front heading east from the Midwest. He said Hurricane Earl has slowed, and weather officials are hopeful the front will push Earl farther west.

“That’s what I’ll be watching for,” said McAleer. “I’ll be looking for changes of strengthening of Earl as well, which will prompt us to adjust our response, personnel, and assets, etc.”

McAleer said that if it begins to look like the storm will indeed have a significant impact on the state, his agency will open an operations command center Friday.

“We will do whatever is necessary,” said McAleer.

Reflecting back a year ago on the wave from Hurricane Bill that struck at Mount Desert Island’s Thunder Hole and swept seven people into the ocean, claiming the life of a young girl, Baldacci said people need to be especially cautious due to dangerous rip currents and large waves.

“Waves, water and power lines are the three critical focuses,” said Baldacci. “And Acadia National Park has made changes in protocol, added more signage and taken steps to avoid the tragedy of last year’s storm.”

As for timing of when a better picture of the storm’s path might be available, Baldacci said he expects an advisory by early Friday afternoon. In the meantime, state and local officials are urging Mainers to prepare ahead of the storm’s arrival.

In a National Weather Service update at 3:42 p.m. Thursday, a tropical storm watch and tropical storm wind watch alerts have been extended to include coastal York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties.

A statement from Gov. Baldacci’s office:

Gov. John E. Baldacci joined Maine Emergency Management Agency Director Robert McAleer on a conference call with a wide array of local, county, state and federal government emergency officials, as well as representatives from utilities, telecommunications and other private entities to review Maine’s preparations for Hurricane Earl’s arrival to the Gulf of Maine late Friday night into Saturday morning.

Baldacci stressed the track of the storm is still uncertain, and its effects may range from high waves and moderately high winds and rain to potentially heavier impact statewide if it moves farther west.

“The state is coordinating information and resource needs to protect people in Maine,” said Baldacci. “We’ve been through storms before and we have been preparing for many days with our public and private partners. We have emergency personnel in Augusta and on the ground across the state ready for this storm no matter what track it takes. It’s vital that people in Maine continue to watch weather reports and prepare themselves and their families as the storm continues to move north.”

According to the National Weather Service, Hurricane Earl continues to bear down on the eastern seaboard, and its strength is likely to weaken as it continues to move north Thursday night. Current projections have the storm entering the Gulf of Maine around midnight Friday and end around mid-morning Saturday. At this point, Hancock and Washington counties would receive the highest winds, which could range between 39 and 73 miles per hour.

Baldacci cautioned that the amount and severity of rain and wind that would hit Maine are still unknown. Power companies have been working with the state to ensure readiness should power outages occur.

The track of the storm should become clearer by Friday morning and into the afternoon. The governor will join Maine Emergency Management Agency officials at MEMA headquarters tomorrow to reassess the positioning of various response personnel and other assets at that time.

According to the National Weather Service, regardless of the eventual track of Hurricane Earl, high waves and strong rip currents will be experienced along the entire coastline of the state.

“I urge all people in Maine to use extreme caution and to pay attention to the warnings by local, state and other officials regarding wave and current action along the coast,” said the governor.

The Governor advises people in Maine to continue to monitor the weather forecasts.

Federal, state, county and local officials have been monitoring the progress of Hurricane Earl and putting contingency plans in place since late last week. Because the Labor Day weekend is expected to bring a surge of holiday visitors to coastal Maine, beach and boat safety have been of special concern to local and state officials.

For updated information about preparing for Hurricane Earl and other safety messages, visit maineprepares.com