FORT KENT, Maine — It was so cold in The County Friday that when BDN reporter Julia Bayly tossed a cup of hot coffee into the air, it crystallized and floated away.
As cold as it was, no records were set, but the National Weather Service continued its wind chill warning overnight and into Saturday morning for northern and Down East Maine, where the feels-like temperatures are predicted to hit 30 to 45 below zero.
The frigid temperatures and blowing snow caused headaches for homeowners and motorists throughout the state Friday and prompted the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to issue an alert about the potential danger for frostbite and hypothermia.
Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of Maine CDC, said Mainers should avoid prolonged outdoor activity and should cover up exposed skin, including nose and ears with a scarf and hat, if going out.
Further south, residents dealt with more snow, as Portland saw a high of just under a foot by mid-afternoon, while Cornish received 11.2 inches and Acton 10.9 inches. Bangor had only registered 2.8 inches before the snow stopped falling later in the afternoon. But the conditions made for slick driving everywhere, though no major accidents were reported.
The cold snap also was wreaking havoc in the homes of some Mainers.
Bob Jankowski, owner of Harley Plumbing and Heating Plus in Bangor, said his company — along with many of its plumbing peers — was swamped with calls from homeowners and businesses with frozen or burst pipes. To say they were busy would be a “drastic understatement,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pipes, heat pipes, water pipes, breaking down and things like that,” Jankowski said Friday afternoon. “We can only really do a quarter of what’s coming into the office.”
He said the business had taken more than 75 calls requesting service on Friday, and it was still two hours before 5 p.m. Jankowski said it would take days to get caught up. Some jobs take an hour, while others might take eight hours of labor to repair the damage.
Homeowners should turn up the heat during cold snaps like this and open up cabinets to allow for more warm airflow to the pipes. Turning down the heat at night to save oil “will cost you in the long run,” he said. Residents should be aware of where their water shut-off is in case a pipe does break.
Some of the pipe problems will resolve on their own as temperatures warm up this weekend, but sustained freezing could cause extensive problems.
In a recommendation fit for many other Mainers, Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria asked residents to help keep streets clear of vehicles, allowing emergency vehicles to pass through the streets.
“With all the snow, some of the streets are getting pretty narrow,” he said. “Our firetrucks need to be able to pass in the event of an emergency.” To that end, the city has declared a “yellow zone” parking ban to clear streets.
Residents in the yellow zone are reminded to have their vehicles off the street before 10 p.m. Vehicles left on the street will be towed.
Fire crews will be out first thing Saturday morning shoveling fire hydrants but could use some help, LaMoria said.
“With over 1,000 fire hydrants to clear, it makes for a difficult day for our personnel. If every property owner shoveled the hydrant near their home or property, they could help save critical minutes in the event of an emergency,” he said.
LaMoria also said homeowners should keep doorways and vents clear — especially those used for heating appliances such as gas stoves, wood pellet stoves and monitor heaters — and never leave space heaters unattended.
The cold was just as hard on vehicles and heavy equipment.
“I’ve been getting calls all day about fuel lines freezing and brakes freezing,” Andre Landry, service manager at the International truck dealership Daigle & Houghton in Fort Kent, said Friday afternoon. “The guys are breaking stuff because the steel is so brittle.”
Frost building up in heavy equipment and truck brake lines is causing braking systems to condensate, freeze and prevent the equipment from moving.
“The guys need to disassemble the lines and put in [additive],” Landry said. “When you’re working at 30 or 40 below, things don’t come apart that easily.”
Diesel fuel freezing or “gelling” is creating headaches for anyone who operates a car or truck using that fuel.
“You can use additive or some of the guys put in wood alcohol,” Landry said. “But when it gets frozen in the [fuel] filter, you’re replacing filters.”
Down the road at Roy Auto Parts, owner Louis Roy said there has been a steady run on car batteries, diesel additive, dry gas, starters and block heaters.
“Things are freezing up like crazy,” Roy said.
Many woods workers this week just never turned their equipment off so the fuel wouldn’t gel, according to skidder operator Kenny Lebel.
“When it’s cold like this we leave our machines running 24 hours a day,” he said. “If we shut it down, it just won’t start again.”
Farm animals may not run on diesel, but the machines used to feed them often do, and that’s presented some challenges for farmers like Vaughn Chase at Chase’s Organic Dairy Farm in Mapleton.
“The biggest challenge for us had been the fuel,” Chase said Friday. “We got fuel late in November that had not been treated and have had a hard time keeping tractors running.”
By the end of this week he said the levels in his farm’s diesel storage tanks had dropped enough that he could top them off with kerosene, which helps the fuel remain liquid in the cold.
All 100 of the farm’s dairy cows are snug in the barn, Chase said, but feeding remains an issue, as the 1,100-pound round bales of hay are freezing.
“We normally unroll the hay in front of the cows but they don’t unroll when frozen,” he said. “We are trying to pull bales from the center that are not as froze.”
Despite only reaching a high of 16 below zero on his farm Thursday, the Chase barn may be one of the warmest locations in Aroostook County, where the cows were providing much of their own heat.
“We actually have to cool the barn down,” Chase said. “The animals throw off so much heat [and] the cows are quite comfortable.”
The Maine Turnpike Authority reported Friday that the evening was relatively quiet in terms of vehicles sliding off the road, while speed limits on the highway remained at 45 mph. A dispatcher at the Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office said one minor slide-off was reported Friday but no major accidents occurred.
Numerous departures out of Portland International Jetport were canceled, while Bangor International Airport reported two cancellations, both afternoon departures.
Concord Coach Lines also canceled its first two departures out of Portland to Boston, while the bus line canceled four northbound departures from Boston into Portland.
All Concord Coach departures out of Bangor were running as scheduled.
Bangor Assistant Fire Chief Anthony Riitano said his department responded to a broken sprinkler pipe at the Union Street Hannaford on Thursday afternoon.
The incident, which occurred at 4:25 p.m., forced the store to close for a couple hours, but no products were damaged, Riitano said.
Bangor Daily News writers Ryan McLaughlin, Nick McCrea, Dawn Gagnon and Julia Bayly contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story reported that the coffee vaporized. Substances vaporize in heat, and they solidify in cold.