Central Mainers woke up to weather about 20 to 30 degrees below zero Friday morning, part of a record-setting cold front that raised alarms even as heating systems failed at some homes and government offices and the governor issued an emergency declaration intended to help refuel more people’s homes.

Gardiner City Hall and Gardiner Public Library both lost heat Friday amid those bone-chilling lows. Their heating systems failed, forcing officials to close both facilities.

Record lows that gripped the state this week were expected to continue early next week, after a bit of a reprieve over the weekend, with some warming — if increasing to the low teens can really be considered “warming” — expected Saturday. The normal high temperature this time of year is around 30 degrees.

“The next couple of days should be warmer, but that’s relative. We’re going to see temperatures, at least (Saturday), into the low teens in Augusta and Waterville, which will feel warmer than the last couple of days,” said Chris Legro, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “But then a cold front comes in Sunday, so things are going to drop back down to the single digits; and Monday will be back down below zero.”

A low temperature of 21 degrees below zero was recorded early Friday morning in Waterville, with Friday’s low in Augusta coming in at 15 degrees below zero, according to Legro. A record low temperature of 9 degrees below zero was set Thursday in Augusta, breaking the previous record low, of 6 below, set in 1960, according to weather service data. A record low of 13 degrees below zero also was noted Friday morning in Portland.

By afternoon, the temperature creeped up only a degree or two above zero and light snow powdered the region. The weather service reported Mercer in Somerset County had the lowest temperature Friday morning, at 30 degrees below zero. The temperature in Fryeburg and Embden plunged to 28 degrees below zero.

At least a few Mainers, looking to escape the frigid conditions, inquired about travel to warmer locales this week, said Jeff Day, a manager of Day’s Travel Bureau, which has offices in Augusta and Waterville. He said the firm had only had a few inquiries, however. The week between Christmas and New Years is typically a slow week, because people who were going to travel probably already had planned to do so before the holidays.

“We’ve had some callers who are like, ‘It’s so cold. Can you tell me what you’ve got somewhere warm?” Day said. “Everybody in Maine wants the Caribbean, Florida or Vegas. Those are big sellers.”

Meanwhile, heating and plumbing repair services were so busy Friday that calls by the Kennebec Journal to several of those businesses in the Augusta and Waterville areas went unreturned. One worker who answered the phone at a heating and plumbing repair business said everyone there was so busy responding to calls for service that no one could comment about how busy they were. Another said regular appointments couldn’t be scheduled until the middle of next week because of so many “heat calls” Friday morning.

As the temperature set record lows outside, it also plummeted inside Gardiner City Hall and the attached police and fire department operations, as that facility’s wood pellet heating system went out overnight, probably between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Friday, according to Anne Davis, interim city manager. Around 7:30 a.m., Davis, who also is the Gardiner Public Library director, learned the library building also had lost heat. She said technicians were working to restore heat in both buildings Friday.

At least some heat was restored later Friday morning to City Hall, but Davis said the heat was still “precarious,” so officials decided to close both City Hall and the library around noon Friday. The library, which normally would be open Saturday, will remain closed for the long weekend. Davis said officials hope to be able to reopen both buildings Tuesday.

“It just got too cold for human beings to interact with other humans,” Davis said of the decision to close the facilities to the public. “At City Hall the heat is coming up, but it’s a precarious situation. The library, they’re still trying to figure it out. The boilers are running, but the heat isn’t getting where it needs to be. It’s a 138-year-old building, so it could be the pipes. It could be anything. We have to get it figured out.”

Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson said it got so cold the computer boards needed to restart the city’s pellet-burning furnace couldn’t function, so firefighters used a heat gun to thaw the boards.


Gov. Paul LePage signed an emergency declaration on Friday, effective until Jan. 5 or until he declares the emergency to be over, that allows heating oil delivery drivers to be on the road for longer periods of time than otherwise allowed under federal Department of Transportation rules.

Maine Emergency Management Agency leaders on Friday urged residents “to use extreme caution to avoid hypothermia, or even death,” resulting from the cold. They noted most of the state is unlikely to get above freezing for the foreseeable future.

In a Friday news release, emergency management officials also suggested people dress in layers and wear a scarf, gloves and a warm hat, because 30 percent of heat loss is through the head.

“Drink plenty of fluids and warm/hot drinks,” MEMA officials said in the release. “Eat regular balanced meals to give you energy — good nutrition is important. Keep active when it’s cold, but not to the point where you’re sweating. Keep dry and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible. Cut down on alcohol, caffeine and nicotine, since all three cause heat loss. Try to keep one room in the house warm.”

Central Maine Power Co. officials warned customers that the risk of fire, carbon monoxide poisoning and other hazards can increase as residents seek to stay warm in the extreme cold. Incidences of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning rise during cold weather because of malfunctioning appliances, poor ventilation and improper use of heating sources, according to Bob Kump, chief executive officer of Avangrid Networks, parent company of CMP. Carbon monoxide is toxic, odorless, colorless and tasteless and can build up as a result of furnace or space heater problems.

Water pipes that are exposed to cold temperature might freeze and burst, CMP officials warned. Wrapping pipes with pipe insulation can help.

The American Red Cross offers tips for avoiding frozen pipes online.

For homeowners or people in apartments who can’t afford heating oil, resources are available. The Kennebec Valley Community Action Program has programs to make sure people in their homes stay warm, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which serves Somerset, Kennebec, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties. This program provides assistance for eligible households on lower incomes and provides assistance to offset rising energy costs.

Andrea Pasco, the development director at KVCAP, said Friday this program in some cases helps people up to 170 percent of the poverty level.

Pasco said there is also another program, called Keep Me Warm. Usually the program wants to see people apply for the LIHEAP money, but in some cases it does provide additional money for people without oil. However, that fund is getting low, and she said the program is seeking donations to replenish it. Pasco said LIHEAP helped over 10,000 households last year alone.

The frigid temperature 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 already had taken 1,000 calls from customers with weather-related problems.

Patrick Moody, a spokesman for AAA, said the most common problem seems to be 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.

“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 frigid weather such as what is gripping Maine this week also exposes underlying problems, resulting in cars needing to be towed in for service. He 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 temperature predicted for Monday 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 Ocean in front of The Brunswick hotel in Old Orchard Beach, will be held at noon 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.


Friday’s bitter cold was a stark reminder to Joanne Sawyer of a time when she had to live outside in winter. Speaking from the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter in Waterville, days before the new year and with a high temperature barely above zero degrees, the 57-year-old is grateful to have a place to stay, at least for now.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I’d be living in a snowbank,” she said.

Sawyer said she lived in Madison, and for over 30 years she had a three-bedroom home there. Eventually, though, she lost her home and most of her possessions there. She said she spent a winter living outside, in a shack off Kennedy Memorial Drive in Waterville. She would wrap herself tightly in her jacket and would put a tarp over the shack in case it rained. The shack had no roof and no windows, and a tree trunk grew in the middle.

“It was a rough winter,” she said. “It was so cold out there.”

On bitterly cold days like Maine has had virtually all week, homeless shelters can be major draws to others as well. On Friday, the shelter was not forcing those staying there to leave during the daytime, as is customary, because of how brutally cold the weather was.

“Who wants to be walking the streets in this cold?” Sawyer said. “Thank God they let us stay.”

While shelter officials said people probably are sleeping in their cars in the city on these bitter nights, Waterville police Deputy Chief Bill Bonney said police hadn’t encountered anyone doing that. He said police routinely check for people sleeping in their cars on cold nights, and if they do find someone, they make sure to try and get them to safety.

“We are very aware of those types of problems and we keep an eye out for them, especially this time of year,” Bonney said.

Alan Bernier, a volunteer at the shelter, said while Friday is the normal day for the food pantry, they also were offering extended services, allowing anyone who needed them to come in and take hats and mittens, as well as various food items.

“Take as many as you need,” Bernier said of the winter clothes. He added that if a person loses a hat or glove in the winter, they can be difficult to replace, especially if a person is homeless or poor.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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