It is going to be bitterly cold in Maine for most of Thursday, but not nearly as frigid as it has been in some Midwestern states, where temperatures plunged so low that schools and businesses closed and more than 1,600 flights were canceled at Chicago airports.

The bitter Arctic cold is the result of a split in the polar vortex that resulted in temperatures well below zero in much of the Midwest and left some parts of the region with lower temperatures than in Antarctica.

“It’s sliding across the country toward us, but we won’t get as cold as they did in the Midwest,” Andy Pohl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said Wednesday night. “We will be on the eastern edge of that blast of Arctic air.”

Even so, Mainers can expect some dangerously cold temperatures Thursday.

It will feel like 10 to 20 degrees below zero in Portland on Thursday morning because of the wind chill, Pohl said. The actual air temperature at dawn could be 2 degrees – far above the record low for the date of minus 17 set in 1948. The average low for Jan. 31 is 13 degrees.

With temperatures this cold, there is always concern for the well-being of people forced to live on the street and the city of Portland says it will help those seeking shelter.

“We are ready. We have warming centers and overflows available in case we need them,” Meaghan Void, interim director of the Oxford Street Shelter, said in an email. Oxford Street exceeds its 154-person capacity on a regular basis.

Jessica Grondin, the city’s spokeswoman, said that if Oxford Street reaches capacity, homeless individuals can be sheltered at the Preble Street Resource Center or the Salvation Army.

“It is Maine and it is winter. We have overflow every single night,” she said.

In Augusta, the waiting list at the Bread of Life Ministries Shelter can top 60 families in the winter, compared with 35 during the summer.

“(These conditions) make it more challenging for those who live outside to be able to survive,” John Richardson, Bread of Life Ministries executive director, said Wednesday.

He said area police departments work closely with the shelter and have an eye out for those living outside during inclement weather.

“Our local police departments are phenomenal,” Richardson said. “They do a great job of checking places … they know where people live outside.”

At the Portland International Jetport, only a few flights were canceled Wednesday – all because of the cancellations in Chicago.

Meanwhile, AAA Northern New England was gearing up for a busy Thursday morning. Spokesman Pat Moody said AAA is anticipating a significant number of calls for service, mostly related to vehicle jump-starts or dead batteries.

On a typical winter day in northern New England, Moody said AAA responds to between 1,700 and 2,000 calls for service. The number of motorists calling for assistance Thursday could exceed 3,000, Moody estimated. He said the agency will ramp up its roadside service fleet and it will be “all hands on deck” in the AAA call center.

Moody recommends drivers don’t let their gas tanks drop below half to prevent condensation from building up and freezing on days when the temperatures drop so low.

Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said she was not aware of any emergency warming centers that would be open Wednesday night or Thursday for people needing shelter or who lose power, but she said MEMA would announce openings on Facebook or Twitter.

Another option for people seeking shelter is to call 211, a health and human services information line.

Luckily, the cold will be short-lived.

Temperatures will begin to climb Friday, continue rising through the weekend and hit the 40-degree range Monday and Tuesday, Pohl said.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Sam Shepherd contributed to this report.


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