Record-breaking cold keeps causing problems across Maine

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Kirk Ladakakos of Maine Water closes a valve along East Grand Avenue in Scarborough, where a water main broke because of the cold weather on New Year’s Day. The break left about 100 customers without water but workers estimated that they would have service restored by Monday evening. (Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)

Record-breaking temperatures continued to wreak havoc across Maine on Monday, stalling vehicles, freezing pipes, canceling Tuesday classes in the Buxton area and closing a high school in North Berwick as Mainers welcomed 2018 on a slightly nervous note amid sustained icy weather.

A new record low of 16 degrees below zero was set Monday morning at the Portland International Jetport, said Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

The previous record low for Jan. 1 was 12 degrees below zero, set in 1957 and tied in 1964, Hawley said. Daily temperatures have been recorded at the jetport since 1940.

Portland also set a new record for lowest high temperature Monday, peaking at 10 degrees at 1:46 p.m. It’s the fourth such record set in the last five days, with record-low highs on Dec. 28, 29 and 30. The previous record low high temperature for Jan. 1 was 13 degrees, also set in 1957.

The temperature was expected to drop to about 10 below zero overnight Monday and hit a high of about 10 degrees Tuesday, Hawley said, possibly breaking a record for the coldest high temperature on Jan. 2, which was 12 degrees, set in 2014.

Hawley tempered concerns about a storm that’s forming off the coast of Florida and expected to head up the East Coast later this week. It could bring high winds and light snow to southern Maine on Thursday, with heavier snow Down East, in Hancock and Washington counties.

“Right now it looks like it could be a glancing blow for us,” Hawley said.

The weather service predicted “bitterly cold winds” would continue Monday night across northern Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties.

Meanwhile, the deepening cold is shifting frozen ground and causing water main breaks throughout the region, including one Monday morning that brought an emergency crew from Maine Water Co. to 114 East Grand Ave. in Scarborough.

Located in Pine Point on the Old Orchard Beach line, the street was flooded and the water main was shut down for repairs, said Mickey Hall, water company superintendent. Only about 100 people were affected, largely because it’s a seasonal waterfront neighborhood.

Steve Cox, director of service delivery for Maine Water Co., said the crews were expected to work into the night to fix the water main break.

“It wasn’t a simple break – it was a lengthy split,” Cox said around 8 p.m. Monday. “They’ll be going into the night. The frost is a lot deeper than we thought.”

Scarborough police later tweeted that East Grand Avenue is expected to be reopened around 3 a.m. Tuesday.

In subzero temperatures, a man on a pier takes photos of sea smoke rising in Cape Porpoise Harbor on New Year’s Day.(Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald)

In Portland, Rob Parritt, director of the Oxford Street Shelter, said staff continues to check around the city for people in need of emergency shelter.

Parritt said the city-run shelter, and an overflow shelter at Preble Street, have been at or near capacity since the cold snap took hold. He said the number of people seeking shelter – as many as 229 a night – is higher than normal.

“It’s good,” he said Monday. “It means people are coming in. We really want people coming in and we’re committed to not turning people away. If people present (themselves) at our shelter, we will find a place for them.”

Parritt said staff members are also taking in people who have been previously kicked out of the shelter for bad behavior, as long as they are not a threat to safety. “It’s just too dangerous to have people outside,” he said.

Scarborough Public Schools announced Monday night that because of the frigid weather, the regular start time of all schools will be delayed by two hours on Tuesday. Bus pickup times also will be delayed by two hours.

In Buxton, SAD 6 announced that all schools in the district will be closed Tuesday because of “transportation issues.”

“Buses do not like to start in this frigid weather,” Buxton Fire Rescue said in a tweet.

Elsewhere in York County, Noble High School in North Berwick will remain closed through Tuesday to allow repairs to a damaged sprinkler system that forced a state wrestling tournament to be moved to Noble Middle School in Berwick on Friday. Noble School District Superintendent Steve Connolly sent an email about the closure to the SAD 60 community on Monday afternoon.

A routine inspection of the high school’s fire suppression system Friday afternoon revealed that its underground feeder pipe had frozen and broken, along with the system’s “backflow preventer,” Connolly said.

“That’s pretty drastic cold,” Connolly said. “There were hundreds of people at the high school on Friday for the first day of the 36th annual Noble Invitational wrestling meet. They all had to be relocated to Noble Middle School, which has a high-school-size gym, but it certainly complicated matters.”

Needed replacement parts should be available by Tuesday morning and the sprinkler system is expected to be fixed by that afternoon, Connolly said, allowing the high school students and staff members to return Wednesday.

Freezing temperatures also caused water pipe damage to the library at Knowlton Elementary School in Berwick and heating challenges at Lebanon Elementary School. The central office staff, which usually is located in the high school, will operate out of the middle school Tuesday.

And while Noble High students and staff members will have Tuesday off, Connolly said he’s worried about getting other students from North Berwick, Berwick and Lebanon back to school when temperatures are expected to remain low. Noble’s bus drivers had trouble starting eight buses during regular maintenance checks throughout the holiday vacation week.

“I’m pretty sure other school districts are going to see some problems with their fleets tomorrow,” Connolly said Monday.

South Portland Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin isn’t anticipating any such problems.

“Our great facilities and transportation crew has been making sure our buildings and buses are ready in spite of the historic cold temperatures,” he said in an email Monday evening. “As of tonight all of our schools have heat and all of our buses are starting and ready to roll.”

Staff Writer Randy Billings contributed to this report.

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