With the state in the grip of a record-setting cold spell, Mainers struggled Friday with frozen pipes and dead car batteries and the governor issued an emergency order to allow oil deliveries to continue without interruption.

The subzero temperatures are expected to last well into the new year, prompting organizers of annual polar dips to postpone scheduled fundraising events until warmer weather arrives.

Early Friday morning, temperatures ranged from 5 to 30 degrees below zero, according to the National Weather Service in Gray. By afternoon, temperatures in southern Maine rose into the single digits. The weather service reported Mercer in Somerset County had the lowest temperature Friday morning at 30 degrees below zero. Temperatures in Fryeburg and Embden plunged to 28 degrees below.

Portland set a record Friday for lowest temperature on Dec. 29, registering 13 degrees below zero at 7:13 a.m., said weather service meteorologist Mike Cempa. The previous record low that date was 9 degrees below zero, set in 1963.

Portland also set a record Thursday for coldest high temperature on Dec. 28, peaking at only 8 degrees. The previous record for that date was 11 degrees, set in 1946. The normal high temperature for the date is 34 degrees.

Icy temperatures are expected to last through the coming week, with occasional minor reprieves.

“It will be slightly warmer Saturday,” Cempa said. “We’ll probably get out of the single digits and hit 15 degrees or so. But New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day we’ll be back in the deep freeze again. People are going to have to dress warmly if they’re out celebrating.”

A runner braves subzero temperatures Friday morning along Back Cove in Portland. Staff photo by Carl D. Walsh

The high Sunday will be around 10 degrees, plummeting to 5 or 10 degrees below zero Sunday night, Cempa said. Monday’s high will be 7 to 8 degrees.

Cempa blamed the sustained freezing temperatures on a so-called polar vortex that’s hovering over Canada.

“The coldest chunk of air in the Northern Hemisphere is sitting just to our north,” Cempa said. “It looks like we’ll moderate somewhat in the middle of next week, when we’ll see highs in the 20s.”

Gov. Paul LePage on Friday issued an emergency declaration to allow oil delivery drivers to work extra hours through Jan. 5 to ensure deliveries can be made during the cold weather. All New England states have now approved similar exemptions for oil delivery drivers.

“The Northeast is experiencing a lengthy cold snap with record low temperatures. Our oil delivery drivers need the flexibility to be on the roads so Mainers can heat their homes over the next several days,” LePage said in a prepared statement.

The frigid temperatures have led to extra busy days for AAA of Northern New England. On Thursday, the company responded to 6,900 calls for service in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. By 8 a.m. Friday, the company had already taken 1,000 calls from customers with weather-related issues. Total calls for the day were unavailable Friday night.

Patrick Moody, a spokesman for AAA, said the most common issue seems to be with dead batteries. The typical lifespan of a battery is three to five years and AAA employees are “finding many batteries beyond that period are failing,” he said.

Josh Stoner tries to jump start his Ford pickup at his home in Auburn on Thursday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“At these temperatures batteries lose 60 to 70 percent of their starting power and if it isn’t a healthy charged battery, it likely won’t start in this temperature,” Moody said.

Moody said low temperatures like the ones gripping Maine this week also expose underlying issues, resulting in cars needing to be towed in for service. He also recommends people keep their gas tanks at least half full to avoid condensation buildup and freezing in the fuel system.

The record-breaking cold and wind chill temperatures predicted for Monday – New Year’s Day – prompted Special Olympics Maine to reschedule its annual Lobster Dip for the first time in 30 years.

The lobster dip, which features people plunging into the chilly Atlantic in front of The Brunswick in Old Orchard Beach, will be held at noon on Jan. 13.

“The safety of our dippers is always of the utmost importance to us and we just cannot take any chances. This is a fun, annual event and we want people to not only look forward to it but to also feel safe while participating,” Special Olympics Maine posted on Facebook.

Another fundraiser, the annual Polar Bear Dip at East End Beach in Portland, scheduled for noon on Sunday, has been called off because of the cold, but a 5K race will still be held, said Stacie Haines of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. So far, 140 Mainers from age 10 to 81 have already registered for the event.

“It was a hard decision to make, but we feel for safety reasons we can’t encourage people to jump into the ocean,” Haines said. “It’s just too cold.”

The annual Atlantic Plunge at Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunk to benefit Caring Unlimited is usually held on New Year’s Day, but this year it was scheduled for Jan. 6. Organizers said the new date was prompted by an astronomical high tide expected Monday. The storm date for that event is Jan. 13.

Emergency officials announced the opening of three warming centers in Rockland because of the extreme cold. Council chambers at Rockland City Hall were open until 4:30 p.m. Friday, and the Rockland Public Library will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Flanagan Community Center was open until 8 p.m. Friday and will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard contributed to this report.

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