According to officials at the National Weather Service in Caribou, the mercury hit 54 degrees in the St. John Valley on Jan. 14 and by Wednesday those readings are predicted to drop to minus 21 degrees in some areas. When factoring in predicted sustained winds of 15-25 miles per hour, the cold will lead to dangerous wind chill readings of 45 below zero in some northern areas of the state.
“This is the coldest air mass we have seen thus far this season,” Joseph Hewitt, lead forecaster with the Caribou weather office, said Monday afternoon. “We have a very cold arctic air mass that started to invade the region last night but it’s really going to settle in tonight and move across the area tomorrow.”
“Cold air really starts pouring in Tuesday night,” Hewitt said. “And the other problem is the wind chills are really going to kick in.”
This means the Bangor area will face minus 25- to 30-degree wind chill readings.
“There will be wind chill advisories in place [Tuesday] that will continue into Wednesday,” Hewitt said.
Those wind chills are expected to remain near 40-below into Thursday in northern Maine and up to 30-below in central Maine, he said.
“People need to make sure they dress appropriately,” Kris Malmborg, deputy sheriff in Aroostook County, said. “If you have to go out, make sure you always have your cellphone and have warm clothing (and) make sure your (vehicle’s) fuel tank is topped off at all times.”
It’s a good idea to let someone know where you are going, Malmborg, who patrols county roads between Fort Kent and Houlton, said.
“Better yet, if you don’t have to be out there, just stay home,” he said.
In Bangor, Dennis Marble, executive director of the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter, said his facility is gearing up to assist those who have no choice but to be out in the frigid temperatures.
“In the winter we add up to five cots in our TV room,” Marble said Monday. “These are in addition to our regular 38 beds.”
Despite having a population base that makes it a city, Bangor is socially like a small town, Marble said, in which those in need often are known to service providers.
“I walk a lot to meetings and other places and often bump into the same people out on the streets,” he said. “If there are people I normally see and do not, I am concerned and find out what I can. Bangor is really small enough for all of us to know what is going on.”
It is in the more rural parts of the state that individuals run the greater risk during these cold snaps, Marble said.
“In places like Aroostook County, you have people living alone and if they have a problem or are in trouble, it can be awhile before anyone knows about it,” he said. “Like if they fall or run out of fuel.”
That’s why people in Maine’s rural areas need to be on the lookout for each other, Malmborg said.
“Make it a point to get out and physically check on the elderly before a cold snap hits,” he said. “It can be as simple as making sure they have their thermostats set properly and all windows and doors are sealed to not let cold air in.”
The elderly also may need help in making sure their driveways and entryways are shoveled and free of snow in case of emergencies, Malmborg said.
“Take a look. An unplowed driveway or absence of smoke from a chimney on a cold day can mean there is something wrong,” he said. “Some of our elderly heat with propane so make sure if they do they have proper ventilation.”
Temperatures as low as those coming this week can mean trouble for exposed skin, according to the National Weather Service website, which notes a wind chill of 20 below will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes.
Pets and other domestic animals should have proper shelter out of the wind and cold, Malmborg said.
Maine’s wild animals and birds, on the other hand, are designed to withstand a cold snap, according to former wildlife rehabilitator Dorothy Hopkins of Fort Kent, but they won’t turn down a helping human hand.
“Certainly if you have been feeding birds you need to continue,” Hopkins said. “If you want to start to get them through this cold you must be prepared to continue feeding for the rest of the season.”
Once wild birds identify a human-supplied feeder as a food source, she said, they will want to keep coming back and will be less inclined to forage on their own.
A warmup — albeit a slight one — is on the way later this week, Hewitt said.
“There is a reprieve coming toward the weekend and on Friday things will start to gradually improve,” he said. “But that is going to be short-lived and even then the highs are going to be just in the single numbers.”
By Sunday, more cold air is on the way with another blast of cold weather expected next week.
“These are the coldest temperatures we’ve seen (in January) since 2009,” Hewitt said. “And the pattern we are in is actually mimicking that same time frame.”