Ram Island Ledge Light is shrouded by seasmoke at sunrise on a frigid Saturday morning. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Temperatures throughout Maine plummeted to double digits below zero overnight Friday into Saturday morning, with hefty wind gusts causing an extreme cold the state hasn’t seen in decades.

In northern Maine, it was so cold there were reports of “frost quakes” or cryoseisms, which can sound like an earthquake. Frost quakes happen when the temperature falls so quickly that the moisture in the ground freezes and expands, creating a loud explosion noise, said Stephen Baron, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray.

In Portland, the overnight temperature dipped to 14 degrees below zero with a wind chill of minus-45 degrees, Baron said.

Portland’s cold came close to breaking the record 16 degrees below zero that was set in 1957, Baron said. There is no wind chill recorded that low, “so it could be a record,” Baron said of Friday’s wind chill.

Gusts were powerful early Saturday, with a peak wind speed of 44 mph in Portland. Wind gusts were similar across much of Maine.

The wind was diminishing at daybreak Saturday.


Maine State Police advised motorists that Route 1 was closed from Caribou to Van Buren on Saturday. Wind and blowing snow were causing whiteout conditions and heavy drifting, state police said.

About 8 a.m., the temperature in Portland was 8 degrees below with a wind chill of minus-31. It was 6 degrees at the jetport by 7:30 p.m. Saturday, or minus-8 degrees with a lingering wind chill, the weather service reported.

Overnight lows were 17 degrees below in Augusta and Gray, and 24 degrees below in Greenville. Greenville appeared to have the coldest temperature recorded without factoring in wind chill.

In Caribou, the overnight low dropped to 21 degrees below with a wind chill of 52 degrees below. “It was one of the coldest we’ve had,” weather service meteorologist Nathaniel Clark said.

A photographer walks along a seawall at Fort Preble as the car ferry Machigonne II passes Fort Gorges on its 7:45 a.m. run to Peaks Island on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

On New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, the cold broke records with an overnight low of 46 degrees below zero, and a wind chill of 108 degrees below zero, which made Mount Washington the coldest spot in the nation. The wind chill surpassed the record of minus-102.7 degrees set in 2004, according to the Mount Washington Observatory.

In southern Maine, patients showing up with cold-weather injuries were treated at Maine Medical Center on Friday and Saturday, MaineHealth spokesperson Clay Holtzman said. The injuries included exposure and frostbite, two of which required hospitalization, Holtzman said.


The emergency warming center at the Salvation Army in Portland had 92 people overnight, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin, up from 62 people who were at the shelter at 7 p.m. Friday.

To accommodate more people, additional chairs were added, which take up less space than cots, Grondin said.

City park ranger Liz Collado performed wellness checks on homeless people outside in tents on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday, Collado stopped at eight different locations, including Deering Oaks, Riverton Rail Trail, Harbor View Park, Bayside and under a Congress Street bridge.

“I’m happy to report that everybody I checked in on were doing well,” she said. One person had spent the night in a tent. “He made it,” Collado said, adding that his water was frozen. She brought him bottled water and more hand warmers. Others spent the night at the emergency shelter and returned to their tents Saturday.

The sun rises behind a wall of seasmoke at Portland Head Light in Fort Williams on Saturday. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“They thanked me for checking in on them,” she said. Collado told them she’d continue to check in, give them hand warmers, collect garbage and provide empty trash bags to help them keep their tent sites clean.

In the Saco-Biddeford area, a number of warming centers were open.


Rev. Lori Whittemore of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Saco and Biddeford said her church was not an official warming center, but they held a “Coldest Night Vigil” of services and support that lasted 41 hours. It will end Sunday morning, when warmer temperatures are forecast.

Sunday temperatures in southern Maine are expected to be in the mid- to high 30s.

Only one person spent the night at the church, Whittemore said, but members brought food to the local train center, where people gathered to avoid the cold. “There’s quite a population of unhoused folk and no housing available,” Whittemore said.

The historic cold gave homeowners plenty of problems.

“It’s been a phone call every five to 10 minutes. It started at 5 o’clock Friday,” said Jim Marcisso, general manager of Pine State Services in Westbrook. The company provides electrical, plumbing and heating system help, including emergency calls. As of Saturday afternoon, the company received more than 120 requests for emergency help from homeowners and business owners, Marcisso said.

“Everything from no heat to not enough heat to frozen lines,” and some burst water lines, he said.


The passenger ferry Wabanaki approaches Spring Point Ledge Light on Saturday morning as seasmok sweeps across the bay and smoke billows from Wyman Energy Center on distant Cousins Island. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Marcisso said his company was getting calls about “systems not being able to keep up. They have their thermostat set at 70, but they’re only getting 50 degrees in the house. That’s pretty common.” Other concerns included no water on the second floor, or no running water at a residence, which is an indication of frozen water pipe, Marcisso said. “We’ve had some lines split and there’s water everywhere.”

His on-call technicians worked from Friday night to 2 a.m. Saturday, then back again at 5:30 a.m. to work through Saturday night and onto Sunday. Because of recent mild winters, some property owners didn’t keep up with their heating system maintenance, he said.

Many homes simply weren’t able to keep up with the cold, Marcisso said. “Most systems aren’t designed for temperatures below minus 5, so when we got temperatures like last night, especially with the wind, it puts the systems in a deficit.”

Some calls were about heat pumps struggling with temperatures 5 degrees below and colder. “This is the challenge of the mass migration to heat pumps,” including in his own home, Marcisso said. Heat pumps are limited when temperatures fall to 5 degrees below. “They’ll start shutting off and on,” a feature designed to protect against damage, he said.

Marcisso recommended older methods in extreme cold, such as oil or propane heat, as long as the older systems are safe and have been maintained.

The brutal cold meant more work for farms and animal owners, including Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, which has 90 cows, 40 goats, and 60 chickens, plus pigs, donkeys and mini-horses.


Seasmoke fills Casco Bay on Saturday morning as photographers document the phenomenon from Fort Williams Park. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Before the cold hit, staff and volunteers scrambled and insulated the barns and shelters with extra tarps and hay to provide more heat, said Hillary Knight, acting president of Smiling Hill Farm. The animals all did well, Knight said Saturday. “We constantly went out to check and refill water.” Cows tend to not drink enough in the cold, so food was strategically placed near water to encourage the cows to drink more, she said.

The cold also caused power outages Friday and Saturday.

Central Maine Power Co. reported 1,767 customers without service at 9:40 a.m. Saturday. By 1 p.m., the number had climbed to 4,326, with 1,094 outages in Cumberland County and 1,405 outages in Penobscot County. By 7 p.m., 1,255 customers were without power, mostly in Franklin, Knox and York counties.

The extreme cold will soon be history, with more normal winter weather Sunday. Baron, the weather service meteorologist, said temperatures will rebound into the 30s, getting near 40.

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