FORT KENT, Maine — With four days left until the end of the month, everything remains on track for this to go down as the coldest February on record in Caribou and Bangor.
“We are still teetering on the brink of breaking the February record,” Tony Mignon, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said late Tuesday night. “But there is not much left in the month and it looks like it will be pretty cold for the most part.”
An average temperature of 2.4 degrees — 10.9 degrees below normal for the month — has folks in northern Maine toughing it out as best they can.
“It can get kind of rough working outside when it’s below freezing,” Cory Stanley, a technician with Time Warner Cable, said Tuesday afternoon as he sat in his parked truck across from the Catholic church in Fort Kent. “There are times we have to take off our gloves to replace lines or hold on to small parts and, yeah, my fingertips can get a bit numb [and] I just get into the truck to warm up.”
Based on the forecast through Saturday, meteorologists at the weather service office project that the average temperature for the month will remain 2.4 degrees, making it the coldest February in Caribou going back to 1939, when records were first kept.
The last time it was even close to being this cold was in 1993 with a February average of 4.1 degrees. But it likely won’t set an all-time monthly low, which is minus 0.7, set in January 1994.
“The coldest day we saw up here in Aroostook County was minus 19 degrees on Jan. 14,” according to Mark Bloomer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou. “We’ve seen some wind chills down in the minus 40s this month.”
Up in northern Maine, residents have been dealing with temperatures stubbornly refusing to rise above freezing for days on end.
Bloomer said a trough of cold air dumping down into eastern North America from Siberia is to blame for the cold snap, frigid even by Maine standards
“There is an extremely persistent pattern in the west with temperatures above normal that is forcing that trough of Siberian air over us,” Bloomer said.
Knowing where the Arctic air is coming from is cold comfort for those who have to deal with it on a daily basis.
Staying in the warm cab of his garbage truck is how Kenneth Saucier of Saucier’s Sanitation plans on weathering the cold.
“It’s tough working in this but you have to do it,” he said Tuesday as he drove his regular route along Market Street in Fort Kent. “We just jump in the truck and warm up more often.”
The weather is causing some headaches for homeowners, as well.
According to Justin Dubois, owner of Quigley’s Building Supply in Fort Kent, plumbers are “all out straight” thawing and repairing frozen residential water pipes.
Bangor also is ready to set a new record with an average for February of 6.2 degrees — good enough to break both the February and all-time coldest month ever observed in Bangor, according to the weather service, which began keeping records there in 1926.
So far, Bangor is 13.9 degrees below normal and meteorologists are predicting it will end the month with an average temperature reading of 6.3 degrees, breaking the old coldest-month record by about 2 degrees, set in January 1994.
The coldest previous February in Bangor occurred in 1993, with an average temperature of 11.3 degrees.
Back in northern Maine, Madawaska-area plumber Ken Dionne said Wednesday that he has seen his share of frozen pipes this winter, but a recent job in the Grand Isle area really showed what extreme cold can do to pipes.
“The house was totally froze over,” Dionne said. “The owners had gone away for the weekend and the furnace ended up going out [and] no one was watching the house.”
Dionne said he and an assistant spent three days thawing, removing and replacing at least 60 percent of the home’s copper and plastic pipes, which had burst and caused some minor flooding in the residence.
“When it’s cold like this and the heat goes out, a house basement can survive and stay warm three to four days,” Dionne said. “But the upper floors you have only a day to a day and half before the pipes will freeze.”
To avoid freezing pipes, Dionne suggested making sure every room in the home has heat getting to it and, when traveling, make sure someone is checking on the house on a regular basis.
Vigilance and monitoring buildings is the key, according to Scott Haley, division manager at Daigle Oil Co. in Fort Kent.
“This winter seems to be worse than any other, especially with vacant buildings,” he said. “We’ve had a dozen instances in our marketing area with the house [pipes] freezing solid.”
Particularly vulnerable, he said, are vacant buildings.
“You have got to monitor it,” he said. “Whether you go check [the building] every day or install a device that sends an alert, you have to keep on top of it when things get this cold.”
Companies like Daigle Oil can provide and monitor devices that send automatic alerts back to the company if a home or building’s inside temperatures fall below certain levels or if the heating system fails.
Property owners also can purchase similar devices that will automatically call or email a preset number in the event of a sudden drop in temperature.
“Those are probably your two most reliable options,” Haley said.
“We just don’t have the snow like we usually do to insulate against the sides of houses,” Dubois said. “But we are certainly not alone. I’ve heard from people down in Florida where it’s been 30 degrees this winter.”
For Dubois, those colder-than-expected Florida temperatures sound pretty good.
“I’d gladly embrace 30 degrees instead of 30 below,” he said.
Normally, according to Bloomer at the weather service, as February fades into March, Maine starts to see some warmer days leading into spring.
But that does not seem to be the case this year.
“It’s looking like temperatures are going to stay below normal into March,” he said. “It’s hard to say for how long at this point.”