BANGOR, Maine — A bone-chilling cold settled into Maine on Thursday, and the National Weather Service issued a warning of potential wind chill temperatures down to a dangerously low minus 38 degrees through Friday evening for the northern half of the state.
The weather service, along with public safety and social service organizations, warned that the low temperatures combined with strong winds could lead to frostbite, hypothermia and even death if precautions are not taken.
According to Reuters, the cold blast that hit Maine on Thursday was brought by a polar vortex, a swirling cold air pattern, that earlier swept across the Midwest before moving into New England.
Wind chill advisories and warnings were issued by the National Weather Service on Thursday for much of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.
A weather advisory for as low as minus 30 degrees in the Bangor area prompted the local School Department to notify parents to make sure children are dressed appropriately before going out to take the bus. The notice indicated that students would immediately be brought inside from the bus and would not be going out during recess.
Maine is expected to experience the coldest weather it has seen so far this season, with forecasters from the National Weather Service predicting that temperatures could fall to a wind chill of minus 40, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service also warned residents of the state’s northern counties to watch out for blowing and drifting snow as wind gusts of up to 40 to 45 mph blast through the region.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the United Way of Kennebec Valley was the only Maine organization to announce the availability of its warming center.
The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily through the end of March in the lower level of St. Mark’s Parish Hall at 9 Pleasant St. in Augusta, where it has operated for the last two years of its eight-year run, the central Maine United Way chapter said in a news release Thursday.
During the last winter season, the center served more than 3,000 visitors, including individuals in crisis and families with young children.
Center director Deidrah Stanchfield said the need for the program is growing.
“Many of us are able to bundle up to clear snow off our vehicles, travel to the grocery store, visit with friends and go to work,” she said. “But some folks would spend their entire day without a place to keep warm if they didn’t have the warming center.”
In Bangor, the Hope House Health and Living Center was gearing up to help homeless people deal with the cold weather.
While its shelter can typically house a population of 66, plans are in place to accommodate more people if need be, Hope House campus manager Bruce Hews said Thursday.
“We won’t turn anyone away,” he said, adding that a supervisor would be on call all night for anyone who turns up in need of help after hours and that mats and chairs were on hand to accommodate an influx of people, should that occur.
He also said Hope House has been working to get the word out about the services it is able to provide. It also has warm hats, mittens and socks for those who need them.
The Bangor Area Homeless Shelter has been operating at capacity since July and is not in a position to house more than its current population of 43, but it did have blankets, hats, gloves, mittens and scarves to offer, shelter aid Ryan Middleton said Thursday.
Olivia Bodwell of Bangor, who is homeless, is one of those who was fortunate to find a spot at the Bangor homeless shelter.
“There’s a lot of people having a hard time getting a place,” she said.
However, Bodwell, a lifelong Mainer, took the cold in stride: “This is mild today.”
Also offering some protection from the cold was the Bangor Police Department, which still had a box of hats and mittens left from its Hats for the Homeless outreach, the department said in a Facebook post on Thursday. The cold weather gear was set out in a box in the lobby for anyone in need.
Union Street Towing in Bangor dealt with hundreds of service calls involving frozen engines, dead batteries and flat tires, among other cold-weather problems, tow truck operator Nate Wardwell said Thursday night while fueling his truck at a Main Street filling station.
“It’s been busy,” he said, adding that additional staff had been scheduled for Thursday and even more were scheduled Friday.
The Bangor Fire Department offered some safety tips for homeowners whose pipes freeze.
The safest way to thaw a frozen water pipe is to use an electric hair dryer, Public Education Officer Jason Johnson said, adding that the tap should be open while the dryer is aimed at the area in which the blockage is believed to be.
The use of a propane torch is never recommended, as all too often, a homeowner will accidentally ignite nearby combustible material.
Mainers facing cold-related crises can call their local municipal officials, fire departments or police departments, Denise Molinaro of the Penobscot County Emergency Management Agency said Thursday.
She said those who need help with heating and other needs can call 211 Maine, a comprehensive statewide directory of over 8,000 health and human services available in this state, or visit 211maine.org.
Reuters contributed to this report.