BANGOR, Maine — Train equipment froze, cars sputtered, schools canceled classes and cold-weather enthusiasts stayed inside Monday as a bitter blast of below-zero temperatures with potentials for minus 50-degree wind chills gripped the Northeast.
On top of the cold, overnight snow is prompting a call to slow down on the Maine Turnpike. At 6 a.m. Tuesday the turnpike authority reduced the speed to 45 mph on the turnpike from Kittery to exit 109 in Augusta. The National Weather Service is predicting up to an inch of snow before 1 p.m., enough to make the roads slippery.
The gasp-inducing cold tested the mettle even of New Englanders, who pride themselves on winter hardiness.
“Snot-freezing cold,” was how Kelly Walsh, 28, described it, walking home from an auto parts store in Montpelier, Vt., after buying a new battery for her car, which wouldn’t start Monday morning. It was minus 21 there at 7 a.m.
“I usually really like it,” she said. “Today is a bit of nuisance.”
Some of the coldest spots in northern New England in the overnight hours included minus 33 in Victory, Vt., 32 below in Whitefield, N.H., and 28 below in Fryeburg. Greenville recorded a wind chill reading of 46 below zero.
“It takes your breath away if you’re not ready for it,” said Dan Giroux, shop tech at Northern Outfitters snowmobile rentals in Greenville, where the fleet was mostly idle because it was too cold for most folks.
The brutal cold is nothing new for local residents, according to Jack Hart, Greenville’s health officer, who said temperatures ranged from 22 below to 32 below zero without considering the wind chill factor.
Greenville has a warming center in the fire station and the town office, but they weren’t needed Monday, Hart said. “We had no calls.”
Elsewhere in Piscataquis County, the same was true. While nearly every community has a warming center, residents faced the cold as they have over the years.
“It’s part of Maine. It just seems everybody is used to it,” Tom Capraro of the Piscataquis County Emergency Management Agency said Monday of the cold snap.
People check on their neighbors and relatives and manage on their own, he added.
Even hat-shy teenagers were taking precautions.
“It’s hard to get teenagers to bundle up, but even they’re putting on their hats this morning,” said Tim Scott, director of development at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg.
Skiers said “no thanks” at some resorts. At Sugarloaf, where a ski lift recently failed in windy weather and sent some riders to the hospital, the combination of cold and wind caused operators to shut down lifts to the summit. Four lower lifts still were running, however.
“We have a few people skiing — not many,” said resort spokesman Ethan Austin. “There’s a few hardy folks who want to get their turns in, no matter what.”
Others took it in stride.
“It’s a winter day in Maine,” said Maude Gardner of Allagash, shrugging off a minus 24 reading Monday. After all, it was nothing compared with a minus 46 reading in January 2009.
The wind chill in some areas of New England was expected to make it feel as cold as minus 50. Wind chill advisories and warnings also were issued in upstate New York, including the Adirondack mountains, where Saranac Lake posted a reading of minus 36 early Monday.
The icy temperatures resulted in some tense moments in Stonington, where a 7-year-old child was missing for about an hour late Monday afternoon, a Hancock County emergency dispatcher confirmed. Details weren’t immediately available, but the child reportedly survived the ordeal.
In Machias — where it warmed up to 4 degrees by midafternoon — a group of high school students came to the rescue of an elderly woman after the Meals On Wheels program reported her driveway was snowed in and the agency was unable to deliver the woman’s food.
Town Manager Chris Loughlin reported that his public works crew had been working all night and already had gone home for the day, so he called Machias Memorial High School for help.
“They shoveled her driveway and her meals were delivered,” Loughlin said.
Some farmers were feeding their animals — which for the most part had been moved inside — twice the normal amount of rations to help them keep warm.
Debbie Lee-McLain of the Down East Large Animal Society, a shelter for farm animals in Deblois, said she is caring for 78 animals solely on donations.
“My birds are not happy,” Lee-McLain said, referring to geese and chickens. “I moved them all inside so we wouldn’t have any frozen feet.”
Because the diesel fuel gelled in the low temperatures, Lee-McLain’s tractor wouldn’t start so she was doing a double feeding by hand.
“This cold is really getting to the animals,” she said, adding, “and me.”
Also in Washington County, firefighters fought house fires in Steuben and Alexander in below-zero weather. Details were not available on the causes of the fires, but no injuries were reported.
At Walmart in Houlton, where the low was minus 23, Shannon Levesque was headed into the store to buy a new battery at about 2 p.m. The Houlton resident drives a 2004 Toyota pickup that “absolutely refused to turn over this morning.”
“I had to call a friend, and he came over and tried to boost my truck,” she said as she headed into the store. “But it just wouldn’t start. He thinks I need a new battery, and he is probably right. Hopefully I will spend money and get a good one so I can get to work on time tomorrow.”
Kelly St. Peter also was at the Houlton store in search of a space heater. She said that of the three cars parked in her yard Monday morning, only one would start.
“We don’t have a garage,” she said. “We all had to cram into one car to get to school and work. My office is heated but I am still freezing, so I am headed in to buy a space heater to keep my toes warm.”
Burst pipes reportedly shut down the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer on Monday, according to the arena’s Facebook page. The maintenance issue prompted the cancellation of practices scheduled for much of the day. The rink was expected to reopen Tuesday afternoon, according to an online calendar found on its website.
A dispatcher at the Penobscot Regional Communications Center said one of the few temperature-related episodes that generated calls involved a husky spotted riding in the bed of a pickup truck that drove through several towns.
Though well-intentioned, the callers’ concerns were misplaced. Several Internet resources noted that the breed can withstand temperatures as low as minus 75.
That’s not the case when it comes to cats, however. The Bangor Humane Society took in two cats — including a pregnant one about to give birth — on Monday that had been abandoned when their owners moved out of a Bangor apartment building.
Some people from the neighborhood had been feeding the felines but were unable to adopt them because pets weren’t allowed in the building they live in, a shelter employee said Monday afternoon.
Once the cats have undergone the shelters’ intake process, which includes a medical examination, shots and spaying and neutering, the cats and kittens will be put up for adoption, the staffer said.
The cold was expected to hang around until Tuesday — just as a potentially dangerous snowstorm approaches the Northeast.
Schools in western and northeastern Pennsylvania, across upstate New York and parts of Vermont and New Hampshire closed their doors Monday or delayed openings to protect students from temperatures that dropped to minus 27 or even lower.
In Lansford, Pa., a 49-year-old man died after spending the night in his car.
In Pittsburgh, a woman kicked her 12-year-old son out of the house without shoes, police said. Officers found the boy walking around coatless in the snow about 2:30 a.m. Sunday with temperatures just above zero. His mother was charged with child endangerment.
In Lebanon, N.H., a homeowner thawing frozen pipes with a torch in the basement set an 11-unit apartment building on fire. It was minus 20 on Monday morning when the torch set the fire, which spread quickly. No injuries were reported, but several pets were missing.
BDN writers Sharon Kiley Mack, Jen Lynds, Diana Bowley and Dawn Gagnon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.