Bone-chilling cold bludgeoned Maine on Friday, as unofficial temperatures dipped to the minus 40s and even lower in northern parts of the state, and much of the eastern half of the U.S. endured the second day of a deep freeze.
There were unofficial reports of temperatures plummeting to 50 below zero in Big Black River in the northwest corner of the state, and as low as 56 below in the St. John Valley.
Rich Norton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Caribou, said Friday afternoon that if certified, the unofficial temperature in Big Black River would be a new record low temperature for Maine.
Maine’s all-time record low was minus 48 in Van Buren on Jan. 19, 1925, according to Victor Nouhan of the NWS.
In The County unofficial lows of minus 48 at Nine Mile Bridge and minus 47 in Allagash were recorded, along with 44 below zero at Clayton Lake and 39 below zero in Presque Isle.
A record low temperature of minus 25 degrees was set in Bangor on Friday, breaking the city’s old record of minus 20 set in 1994, according to the NWS.
Elsewhere in Penobscot County, Grindstone unofficially saw minus 38, Corinna minus 31 and Old Town minus 30 on Friday. In Millinocket and Patten temperatures reached minus 24.
Gov. John Baldacci on Friday signed a state of emergency proclamation to facilitate heating fuel deliveries.
The proclamation allows the federal Transportation Department to waive rules so heating fuel delivery drivers can stay on the road longer to make sure homes and businesses stay warm.
The governor said the extreme temperatures pose a threat to the public health and safety if heating fuel deliveries can’t get through.
Cold gripped much of the rest of the eastern U.S. as well, with temperatures of minus 10 in Cleveland, minus 6 in Detroit and minus 11 in Chicago on Friday morning. In upstate New York, areas near Lake Erie received up to 2 inches of snow per hour.
The cold snap has claimed at least six lives and contributed to dozens of traffic accidents. One death involved a man in a wheelchair who was found in subzero temperatures stuck in the snow, a shovel in his hand, outside his home in Des Moines, Iowa. He died at a hospital.
The Associated Press reported that in an odd twist, Alabama was colder than Alaska.
Some in the South grew worried as temperatures fell to unusual lows. In Atlanta it dropped below the teens, some 20 degrees below normal lows in January.
“We’re afraid people will die in this kind of weather,” said Anita Beaty, who works with the homeless in Atlanta, where about 900 men had packed a shelter that normally houses 700.
Forecasters said temperatures in the upper Midwest could turn into the coldest in years as Arctic air keeps spilling southward from Canada.
In northern Maine, temperatures are expected to stay below zero until Sunday, when snow is expected to move into the area.
“We need the snow to bring the temperatures back up,” Norton of the NWS said Friday.
Aroostook County once again was the coldest spot in the state. In addition to the minus 40s in several places, a temperature of 38 below was recorded in Limestone, while it was 37 below zero at the NWS office in Caribou.
Houlton residents saw a temperature of minus 35, while it was minus 28 in Ashland.
A wind chill advisory remained in effect over northern Maine through 6 p.m. Friday as temperatures were forecast to hit 39 to 45 below around the St. John Valley on Friday night.
In an area known for its friendly residents, on Friday instead of a “How’s it going?” when two people met, the first question on everyone’s lips from Fort Kent to Madawaska was, “How cold was it at your place this morning?”
Numerous residents awoke to cars that refused to start in the subzero temperatures as the Roy Auto Parts-NAPA in Fort Kent sold out of some sizes of car batteries and did a brisk business in battery chargers and fuel additives.
Students in SAD 27 got an extra few minutes of sleep when all district schools opened an hour later for classes because of the deep cold.
In Orneville, just south of Milo in Piscataquis County, a 50-year-old woman apparently had a close call with the cold when she reportedly was found beside a road by a neighbor at about 4:40 a.m. Friday. The neighbor covered her with a coat until an ambulance arrived. It could not immediately be determined Friday what happened to the woman or why she was there.
In Guilford, where temperatures dropped to minus 38 degrees, diesel fuel congealed in the tanks of several SAD 4 buses, while other buses had air brakes that couldn’t draw pressure because of freezing lines, SAD 4 transportation director Dave Cotta said.
“I know that we had two or three buses setting in the parking lot that just could not get moving,” said Cotta. “Some had trouble starting.”
Most of the school system’s 10 buses ran on time, he said.
The temperature reached a low of 37 below zero at Abbot Village in Piscataquis County and 31 below zero in Dover-Foxcroft.
Bar Harbor in Hancock County had a low of 15 below zero, and at Acadia National Park it was 20 below zero.
It was minus 35 in Danforth in Washington County and minus 28 in Cherryfield. Machias residents saw temperatures of 25 below zero.
The NWS reported temperatures of minus 32 in Rockland at 7 a.m. Friday, minus 26 in Lincolnville in Waldo County, and minus 37 in Jackman in Somerset County.
Norton of the NWS said the deep cold temperatures were expected for Saturday morning before the snow moves in on Sunday.
The cold comes from a large, dry air mass that lingered in Alaska and northern Canada for a couple of weeks before creeping down into the eastern half of the United States.
BDN writers Jen Lynds in Houlton and Nick Sambides in Millinocket, freelance writer Julia Bayly in Fort Kent, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.