BANGOR, Maine — Arctic air is putting city services and homeless shelters to the test from Maine to Minnesota.
The National Weather Service issued a dangerously cold wind chill warning for Tuesday night into Wednesday inwestern Maine. That warning extended into Thursday, with wind chill readings in western parts of the state projected to fall as low as 44 degrees below zero.
Temperatures in Bangor were predicted to dip to 10 degrees below zero on Wednesday and Thursday nights, according to the National Weather Service.
Wintry conditions from Minneapolis to Washington marked the coldest conditions in many parts of the United States in four years, but were nowhere near the record lows for January, meteorologists said.
“This cold that we are experiencing right now came straight from the Arctic,” said Tom Kines, an AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist.
Bangor shelters and city services are ramping up efforts to make sure everyone who needs to get out of the cold has a place to go, according to Dennis Marble, director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter.
Marble said late Wednesday afternoon that the shelter is “generally full — period,” but during especially cold stretches, more people turn up looking for a place to stay or to just warm up for a short time.
The shelter has 38 permanent beds, but adds five or six more cots in the TV room in the winter. In especially cold weather, the shelter also will provide more hot food and coffee for people during the day. The shelter was expected
Marble said the shelter was working with police and other agencies, such as the Hope House, and the Police Department to ensure that no one is left out in dangerously cold air. If the shelter doesn’t have room, then people are told where else they can go, and the shelter follows up with staff there to make sure the person arrived safely, Marble said.
“In this weather, it doesn’t take long for people to get into trouble,” said Shawn Yardley, director of health and community services for Bangor. “It’s life and death for some people.”
Yardley said the homeless aren’t the only ones who suffer during extreme cold weather. Subzero temperatures sap heating oil at a faster rate, putting people on low-income heating assistance at risk of running out of fuel before spring.
Yardley said that cold weather doesn’t factor into whether a person is eligible for general assistance, which could help cover heating costs.
He said people who aren’t eligible for general assistance through the city, but who still are having trouble heating their homes, can reach out to their local church or The Salvation Army for assistance.
“We try really hard to not just refer people, but to connect people,” he said.
Struggles to keep homes warm can lead to dangerous situations, Yardley said, citing an incident last week in which a Bangor resident was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after he tried burn coal in a converted metal drum that wasn’t properly vented.
“People need to stay warm,” Yardley said, “and they’ll do what they have to do.”
The cold weather is causing other problems across the northern part of the country. Communities opened emergency warming shelters and shut down ski resorts.
Washington, D.C., reported its coldest weather in four years, reaching 16 degrees Fahrenheit at Reagan National Airport early Wednesday.
The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning for New Hampshire until Wednesday evening, with values as low as 43 degrees below zero because of steady winds up to 20 mph and gusts up to 30 mph.
New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain ski area said it would be closed to skiers on Wednesday and Thursday as temperatures, forecast to drop to 10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, made for “unsafe conditions” for skiers and workers.
“It won’t take that much wind to get things a little bit colder than they really seem to be,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Kraujalis said.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy urged towns and cities to open warming centers and at least four municipalities did. At least 22 people seeking shelter called an emergency 211 phone line overnight, said Scott DeVico, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection.
Warming centers were open across New York City.
In Chicago on Wednesday, a five-story warehouse that caught fire in frigid cold on Tuesday was covered in ice as water from the fire hoses froze.
“These cold snaps challenge everybody,” Yardley said.
BDN writer Nick McCrea and Reuters contributed to this report.