AUGUSTA — Judy Colomy has found a way to stay warm in bone-chilling temperatures.

“I beat the odds with a heating blanket and a kitty cat that spoons with me,” said Colomy, a 1979 Cony High School graduate who volunteers at the Augusta Community Warming Center on Water Street.

The center, open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., has seen a spike in visitors looking for a place to stay warm this week as temperatures have plunged to subzero and the single digits, even in the daylight hours.

More than 50 people visited the city warming center on Wednesday, a record, said Rob Shore, director. He arrived mid-morning on Thursday with dozens of plastic bags filled with clothes donated by local car dealer Charlie Shuman and his wife, Nancy.

After a brief respite today — temperatures near 32 degrees are predicted — another blast is on the way for the weekend, said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Sinsabaugh.

“There’s a fairly decent Arctic air mass settled over us,” he said. “You don’t see it coming out of Florida.”

Colomy and others sorted the clothes — fleece-lined flannel shirts, hats, jeans, gloves, slippers, dress shirts and more — in a back room so they can be set out in phases when there is a need.

“I expect we’ll see continued high numbers with the cold snap,” he said.

Down the street Thursday, at the Bread of Life Ministries soup kitchen, about a dozen people enjoyed a hot lunch of chicken and gravy, with desserts waiting to be served. There were fewer people than normal on Thursday despite the temperature, because people tend to hunker down when it gets really cold and they usually have more money to spend at the beginning of the month, said Patsy Tessier, kitchen manager.

Aleticia Knox said she eats at the shelter every other day, and volunteers as well. She said she’s been having trouble with the heat and cable in her Sewall Street apartment, so she’s been using the warming shelter, too.

She said that it’s a good idea to have it open for people who want to get warm. “A lot of them are not used to the cold.”

Local charities say that high fuel costs and the poor economy have combined to create a larger need for their warming centers, where people can eat, drink, and socialize in comfort.

Tina Chapman is the president of United Way of Mid-Maine, which operates a warming center on Water Street in Waterville.

She said that the cold snap causes the two dozen or so people who use the center on an average day to stay longer and put off errands.

“They just tend to be there all day,” she said.

In Waterville, the temperatures reached a low of 8 below zero early Thursday morning. By 9 a.m., it had warmed to zero degrees. The air was relatively calm, although wind chills did reach a low of 14-below zero on Wednesday night.

Eight below zero is the lowest Jan. 3 temperature in Waterville since 1999, according to Tom Hawley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Hawley said the lowest temperature ever recorded for that date is minus 27, set in 1918.

In Augusta, it was technically warmer than in Waterville, with temperatures hovering around 1 for most of Thursday morning, but stronger winds created a wind chill factor low of 15-below around midnight Wednesday.

Cold precautions

Despite the temperatures, MaineGeneral Medical Center facilities in Augusta and Waterville have yet to see any cases of frostbite, said Scott Kemmerer, medical director of emergency services. He recommended that people dress in layers, avoid alcohol and sedatives and keep exposed skin covered, particularly when it’s windy.

He also advised checking on the elderly who live alone.

The Kennebec Valley Humane Society offered tips for four-legged friends who may usually enjoy the outside. Cats should be kept indoors, because they are especially sensitive to the cold, said Executive Director Hillary Roberts. Also, if you know there may be a cat outside, check under your car because it’s a place they seek out to stay warm.

Dogs should be kept on leashes when they are out for a walk because they have trouble picking up a scent in the snow if they get lost, she said. And, just as the dogs should never be left in a car in summer, they can also get too cold in the car in winter. Both dogs and cats should have a microchip embedded to make them easier to find if they get lost, she said.

Dog owners should also look for paw-sensitive rock salt.

At China Elementary School, assistant principal Darlene Pietz said children have not been allowed outside during recess for most of the week because of the frigid temperatures. Pietz said that the school also sends out reminders to parents to dress their children warmly.

Less crime in the cold

Although it might seem like human nature to seek out warm shelter at almost any cost, people don’t try to get arrested because they need a warm bed, said Lt. Ryan Reardon, assistant administrator of the Kennebec County jail.

However, they do see more people in the lobby trying to get warm and recommend area shelters to those who need help.

“I don’t think anybody would want to come here,” he said. “They hang out in the lobby to get the feeling in their feet again.”

Sgt. Paul St. Amand of the Fairfield Police Department said crime tends to decrease in extreme cold because people are less likely to be out of their homes.

Capt. Rick Stubbert of the Oakland Police Department said he sees a shift in crime patterns.

“There’s less foot traffic, less criminal mischief, less car burglaries,” said Stubbert. “On the flip side, you might see a little more domestic violence crime and things like that because people are penned up.”

Stubbert said that officers are mindful of those who appear to be at risk.

“If we see a pedestrian late at night who appears to be intoxicated, we’ll try to get him where he’s going, because it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to take effect at these temperatures,” Stubbert said.

Thaw may come early

In Gardiner, The Depot owner Steve Casey has been dealing with a four-day headache caused by a broken water main. He came in to 6 inches of water in his basement on Monday, which caused him to lose some stock and damaged his computer system. City workers dug up the 6-inch pipe on Thursday to repair it, while a handful of customers sat inside the bar.

Paul Gray, superintendent of the Gardiner Water District, said it was about the fifth pipe break in the city in the last month, which he attributed to an old system.

“There’s a lot of 100-year-old pipe in the ground,” he said. “I’m hoping we don’t have any more this winter, but that would be a fantasy.”

On a more positive note, a crew from the Augusta Bureau of Parks, Cemeteries and Trees began flooding an ice rink at the Calumet Playground on Northern Avenue Thursday morning. It still needs more work, but could be ready for skating by the weekend, said Jim Goulet, director.

One thing that could alter many outdoor plans moving forward is the weather next week. Sinsabaugh, the meteorologist, said temperatures could hit 40 degrees and that rain — yes, rain — might make a brief return.

“It looks like the January thaw is going to come early,” he said.

Staff writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling contributed to this report.

Susan Cover — 621-5643
[email protected]
 

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.