A bone-numbing blast of arctic air settled over the Northeast for an extended stay with temperatures Thursday that fell to 38 below zero in northern Maine.
That’s cold enough to idle ski lifts, silence snowmobiles and send people indoors.
Residents in northern Maine prepared for even lower temperatures of 40 below today, and they faced the prospect of the thermometer staying below zero until Sunday.
It was cold enough to shut down Big Rock ski area in Mars Hill. Other ski areas posted frostbite warnings. But for the most part, it was business as usual — though at a slower pace — even in places like Fort Kent, where the temperature plunged to 33 below zero.
“You pretty much have to grin and bear it,” said Justin Dubois, manager of Quigley’s Building Supply in Fort Kent, who had few customers on Thursday.
Living in the nation’s snow belt, Dubois said, residents know that they have to take the good with the bad. “You have to understand that we don’t have hurricanes and tornadoes — but we do get 200 inches of snow and cold weather,” he said.
Jason McEwen of Presque Isle said he was tempted to leave his truck running with the heater going full blast when he ran into Marden’s in Houlton.
“It has been quite a morning,” he said. “I had to call a friend to boost my truck and then it felt like it took the whole ride down for the cab to warm up. I hate to shut my vehicle off, but I will. I know it is Maine in January, but these temperatures get old really quickly.”
Beth Stewart of Houlton, who was headed into a nearby grocery store, agreed.
“This is my day off, and it just killed me to leave the house,” she said Thursday afternoon. “But I had to get some groceries, so it was kind of a necessity.”
Even though Houlton was one of the warmer spots in Aroostook County on Thursday at 12 below zero, it still felt bitterly cold to those who had to venture outside for any sort of activity.
Ken Wallingford, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Caribou, said the lowest temperature in the state, 38 below zero, was recorded in Big Black River and at Nine Mile Bridge.
Other temperatures around the state included minus 33 in Allagash and Lille; minus 31 in Clayton Lake; minus 29 in Madawaska; minus 20 in Frenchville; minus 17 in Caribou and Presque Isle; minus 9 in Millinocket; minus 10 in Bangor; minus 15 in Old Town; minus 14 in Dover-Foxcroft; minus 13 in Greenville; minus 3 in Eastport; and minus 9 in Cherryfield.
The cold-weather misery spread across the nation’s midsection to Montana and reached into the Deep South. Wind chill advisories, watches and warnings were issued in more than a dozen states, as far south as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
The nation’s cold spots on Thursday were Garrison, N.D., and Pollock, S.D., both of which came in at 47 below zero. Record lows were recorded in Bismarck, N.D., where it was minus 44, and in Aberdeen, S.D., where it was minus 42.
The deep freeze is notable because of the bitter cold over such a large geographic area, said Scott Stephens from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
“I would say based on the scope and intensity of this cold wave, it’ll be among the Top 5 arctic outbreaks we’ve seen so far this decade,” Stephens said.
The cold comes from a large, dry air mass that had been hanging out in Alaska and northern Canada for a couple of weeks before descending into the eastern half of the United States.
When the air mass entered the nation’s heartland, Alaska warmed up. Fairbanks topped out at 44 degrees Wednesday night after hitting 45 below zero last week, said Bruce Terry, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
In Boston, Craig Caplan, owner of five pushcarts selling hats, scarves and gloves in Boston’s Downtown Crossing shopping district, said Thursday was one of the coldest days he has seen in 20 years of outdoor work. The credit card machine at his pushcart wasn’t printing because the ink had frozen.
“With the year we’ve had, you’ve got to come out. You can’t let the weather be a deterrent,” said Caplan, referring to the rocky economy.
Across the region, agencies that serve the homeless and elderly were taking steps to ensure that everyone stayed warm.
In Portland, the city rented a van and made the rounds Thursday night to check on the well-being of the city’s homeless. The van was loaded with a social worker and plenty of cold-weather amenities including blankets, said city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
The cold weather took its toll on cars. AAA reported that 1,100 cars and trucks needed jump starts in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont on Thursday.
Matt Ivey, who was driving an AAA tow truck, said he was seeing plenty of frozen fuel lines and dead batteries. He said cars seemed to be in rough shape. “Because of the economy, people don’t really have enough money to repair their vehicles,” he said.
At L.L. Bean, the Maine-based outdoor sporting goods and clothing company, the cold was giving a boost to an otherwise dismal season.
One of the biggest sellers was an ice auger used by ice fishermen to bore a hole into frozen lakes and ponds. “We’re seeing a run on hats, gloves, mittens and boots, as well as outdoor items like ski parkas. We’re selling ice skates to beat the band,” said spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.
Back up in Fort Kent, even snowmobilers were staying indoors for the most part, said Bob Bonenfant, president of Roger’s Sport Center Inc., a snowmobile dealer on Main Street.
“I was coming to work this morning and I was looking at the chimney tops, and every single one of them had smoke coming out of them,” he said. “That means the furnaces were working overtime.”
At the bookstore at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, manager Lucy Beaulieu said she started her car a half-hour before leaving her home to let it warm up, and she bundled up in a fur coat, gloves and hat. Told of the minus-32 reading, she responded, “That’s crazy.”
“You go to work — and you go home. You don’t make any unnecessary stops where you have to get out of your vehicle,” she said. Her advice: “You sit on the couch, read a good book, stay inside.”