AUGUSTA — Temperatures in many central Maine cities and towns didn’t reach above zero Thursday until early afternoon, making the warming center on Front Street a popular escape from the cold.

Curtis Snyder, 23, said he’s visited the Augusta Community Warming Center just about every day this winter.

Snyder, who said he’s been homeless for much of the last four years, said the winter is the roughest time to be without shelter. There are fewer issues in the warmer seasons when he can sleep outside. Since arriving in the area a few weeks ago after being incarcerated, Snyder’s been couch surfing while he tries to get an apartment through General Assistance.

“This place right here is the best place I can actually find to stay warm, have some coffee, have some food in my stomach — whether it’s a snack or a full meal,” Snyder said. “This place is the best thing I think I’ve seen happen to the homeless community of Augusta.”

Temperatures across the state reached their lowest point Thursday around sunrise, just after 7 a.m., according to Michael Cempa, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray. Augusta’s low was 13 below, while the low in Waterville reached 15 below.

Towns farther north had even colder temperatures. The lows in both Rangeley and Jackman reached minus 23 degrees, Cempa said.

The weather service doesn’t have historic temperatures for the Kennebec Valley region, but both Portland and Bangor came close to record lows Thursday.

Portland’s record low temperature for Jan. 8 is 16 below, while Bangor’s is 21 below, both of which occurred in 1942. The two cities saw temperatures Thursday of 8 below and 13 below, respectively.

The weather service issued a wind chill advisory early Thursday morning that remained in effect until 10 a.m.

Temperatures were expected to continue climbing through Thursday night and into Friday. After reaching a high of around 10 Thursday, temperatures were expected to rise to the mid-20s Friday, Cempa said. Light snow was also expected to fall Thursday night into Friday.

“I think that this is going to be, at least for the foreseeable future, the coldest air we’ll see,” Cempa said.

Jamie Py, president of the Maine Energy Markets Association, a trade association that represents sellers of heating oil, propane, and motor vehicle fuel, said he plans to ask Gov. Paul LePage Friday for an hours of service waiver because of the cold weather and a shortage of delivery drivers.

If approved, the waiver would allow drivers to drive more than the 60-hour-per-week maximum for the next few weeks to keep customers from running out of fuel.

For those with no homes to keep warm or no fuel, the Augusta warming center, funded mostly by the United Way of Kennebec Valley, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, usually through March.

Besides offering a warm refuge and hot coffee, the center has a supply of free clothing for people in need, a service Snyder said has been helpful. Pants sometimes don’t fit, but there are always plenty of warm jackets and other clothes, he said.

“This place has done a lot for me and a lot of people,” Snyder said.

Chris Reynolds, 29, of Augusta, also visited the warming center Thursday. He said he first heard about it from a friend last winter.

“I come here to warm up when I’m walking around. Come in, get a warm cup of coffee. It’s nice to have a place to warm up,” Reynolds said.

Dan Lau, a manager at the warming center, said about 40 people have visited most days this winter. Around 30 had stopped by at noon Thursday, and around 60 visited the day before, Lau said.

“Most of the people that come in are regulars, but just about one or two a day will walk in who had heard about it from somebody,” he said.

It seems like word of the warming center, in its sixth year, has been getting out more this year, Lau said.

The supply of clothes, especially boots, donated by community members has been popular, he said. The biggest needs for the shelter’s supplies are more boots, regularly sized men’s and women’s clothes, and thermal shirts, Lau said.

“We’re here to keep people out of the cold. Anything else is a perk,” he said.

Humans aren’t the only ones who should avoid these frigid temperatures.

Margi Hayes, outreach coordinator for the Humane Society Waterville Area, said pet owners need to bring their cats and dogs inside when temperatures plummet like they did this week.

Hayes said pets can face low body temperatures, hypothermia, frostbite or death in freezing temperatures.

She said the shelter has received calls in the past reporting pets left out in the cold, and they direct the callers to their town’s animal control officer, who will check on the animals.

The shelter’s Facebook page has been sending out reminders over the past few days in an effort to make pet owners aware the animals need to come inside.

“We can’t change behavior, but we can send out those reminders,” Hayes said.

Morning Sentinel staff writers Kaitlin Schroeder and Evan Belanger contributed to this report.

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