January 20, 2020
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Dangerous wind chills putting state into deep freeze; snowstorm bearing down on south, coast

GRAY, Maine — Just when you’d think Mainers have had enough for a while, a fresh batch of winter weather is bearing down on the state yet again.

Southern and coastal counties are expected to feel the brunt of the storm, according to the National Weather Service, while biting wind chills also are expected.

A winter storm warning was in effect through 7 a.m. Friday for Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Waldo, coastal Cumberland and York counties, according to the weather service. Those areas are expected to see 7-12 inches, and strong winds could create blizzardlike conditions.

The gusty winds also are forecast to produce dangerous wind chills overnight Thursday and into Friday, according to the weather service. Wind chill readings could dip as low as 30 below zero in northern counties.

Four to 8 inches of snow can be expected over northwest parts of the state while the Bangor area was forecast to receive 1-3 inches.

Because of the storm, Gov. Paul LePage announced early Thursday afternoon that state offices would close for the remainder of the day in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties. The governor urged motorists to drive safely on their commutes home.

The Maine Turnpike Authority reported several vehicles sliding off the highway throughout the day, while the maximum speed limit on the turnpike was reduced to 45 mph.

Caribou set a new record for Jan. 2 low temperatures when the mercury plunged to minus 28 degrees, according to data collected by the National Weather Service office in Caribou.

“Right now, it’s 16 below [in Caribou] with no wind,” Rich Norton, meteorological intern at the Caribou weather office, said early Thursday afternoon. “We are the lucky ones.”

Elsewhere around the state, winds were creating frigid conditions. Frenchville showed air temperatures of minus 20 with a minus 40 degree wind chill, Norton said.

In Bangor, the air temperature Thursday afternoon was reading 4 degrees below zero with a minus 22 degree wind chill, and it was 11 below in Millinocket with a minus 28 wind chill.

And while there is no denying it’s cold, it is not yet an emergency situation, according to the head of Maine’s emergency management agency.

“We continue to hold our breath,” Bruce Fitzgerald, acting director of MEMA, said Thursday. “We won’t be opening shelters unless we see power outages again.”

At the height of last week’s ice storm, Fitzgerald said the Red Cross had five shelters operating in the affected areas in addition to a sixth non-Red Cross shelter and numerous community warming centers.

“They are all closed right now, but we are on standby,” he said.

Should weather again cause significant power losses, Fitzgerald said residents can check the MEMA website or call 211 for updated shelter locations and information.

Residents also are encouraged to call 211 and provide any information they may have on storm-related property damage, he said.

“This is not a promise that we are going to have resources to help people at this point,” Fitzgerald said. “But we want to get our arms around what is out there for damages.”

At Eastern Maine Medical Center’s Walk-In Care Center on Union Street in Bangor, physician assistant Alexandra Ainsworth said Thursday that she has not seen an increase in cases related to cold weather, but she did caution residents to take preventive actions.

“The key thing is to keep skin from being exposed,” she said.

Covering all skin, especially the extremities, helps prevent frostbite, Ainsworth said, which is identifiable by a numbness or tingling in the early stages to actual blistering of the skin.

If frostbite is suspected, Ainsworth said, the affected area should be warmed slowly with lukewarm water, a blanket or body heat.

“If you have to be outside, it’s a good idea to take frequent breaks inside to get warm,” she said.

In Portland, where the storm winds were whipping fiercely off Casco Bay, some brave souls saw the freezing temperatures and gathering snow as an opportunity for fun.

“We couldn’t let it pass us by,” said Wendy Napolitano, who was watching her two 7-year-old daughters, Julia and Isabella, sled on Portland’s steeply sloped Eastern Promenade. “As long as we’re in layers and bundled up, [we’re OK]. It’s nice and fluffy. We don’t get this all the time.”

Kent Green, who got the afternoon off from his job at a Portland restaurant because of the storm, took advantage of the free time to try snowboarding nearby.

“It’s a little bumpy out there because a lot of people have been walking during previous snowstorms and leaving footprints,” he said.

Green, who sometimes surfs in the wintertime, said he has his limits.
“There’s supposed to be great surf out there, but it’s too cold for me for that,” he said. “I think about 20 degrees is the worst [temperature] I can deal with in a wetsuit — colder than that is too extreme.”

The weather is creating some headaches for Mainers who have no choice in venturing out into the cold.

Auto parts stores are seeing a brisk business in battery and car starter sales to residents who experienced mechanical problems trying to get vehicles started Thursday morning.

Once started, keeping heavy machinery running also can be a bit of a challenge.

“Getting machines started is the main challenge we have,” according to Keith Michaud, sales manager at Frank Martin Sons in Fort Kent, which deals in logging equipment.

“Once it does start, then the thing is to keep hydraulic pumps from failing because it takes so long for [the fluids] to warm up.”

Mechanics at Frank Martin Sons were on the job Thursday repairing damaged tree harvesters and other logging equipment, Michaud said.

“They are fixing stuff outside,” he said. “They are set up with tarps around the work area and are running gas or propane heaters to keep their feet and hands warm.”

Some woods machine operators actually drove out to their equipment last night to start the machines and keep them running and warm all night and ready for operating Thursday, Michaud said.

While Bangor International Airport didn’t report any delays or cancellations, air traffic out of Portland International Jetport was being hampered by the weather Thursday.

Approximately 11 flights out of Portland had been canceled, while three other flights have been delayed. Travelers are encouraged to check with their airline before heading to airports.

Portland also announced a citywide parking ban in effect 10 p.m. Thursday through 6 a.m. Friday. Any vehicle left on city streets during those hours will be towed.

Relief of a sorts is on the way, according to the National Weather Service, as the arctic air mass moves off and temperatures slowly begin to rise through the weekend into the 20s and 30s around the state.

On Monday, a low-pressure system moving up the East Coast from the Gulf of Mexico will bring moderating temperatures as high as the 40s in central and southern Maine and the threat of mixed precipitation and rain statewide, he said

“This is not good,” Norton said. “Rain on top of 2 feet of snow is never a good thing.”

By Tuesday, that low will have pulled out and cold temperatures returned.

“We will be back in the deep freeze,” Norton said. “But it won’t be quite as bad as this week.”

BDN reporters Seth Koenig, Ryan McLaughlin and Mario Moretto contributed to this report.

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