Cold spell spells tons of trouble

INSTANT CRYSTALS — Waking up to minus 20 degrees, Nancy Campbell and Company decided to throw boiling water over the railing. It instantly turned into ice crystals. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Campbell)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

Dead car batteries, dwindling fuel tanks, delayed fuel deliveries, chilly temperatures in homes and businesses, too many layers of clothing to count and frozen water pipes — welcome to daily existence during a cold snap.

Mainers are not alone in their struggles with the prolonged cold spell. According to news reports nationwide, temperatures did not rise above freezing in 90 percent of the U.S. on New Year’s Day.

Despite a high of 22 degrees on Wednesday, Lake Region residents will once again suffer temperatures well below freezing by the end of the week.

“By Saturday, high temps near Bridgton will be 0 to 5 degrees,” according to Meteorologist Andy Pohl with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) office in Gray.

On Tuesday, “Portland set a record low of minus 17 degrees. [Tuesday] was the seventh straight day that Portland was 15 degrees or colder. The previous record was in February 1979,” Pohl said.

If citizens are saying they don’t recall such a long streak of cold weather, they would be correct.

“It’s true. The normal high for Portland is 32 degrees. We are running 20 degrees below that,” he said.

In towns around the Lake Region, lots of people are picking up the phone for home heating fuel deliveries and discovering they are on a long waiting list.

“The number of calls for heating assistance has spiked,” said Casco Town Manager Dave Morton. “People are having trouble with home heating fuel. Not just paying for it, they are having trouble getting it delivered,” he said.

“Apparently, the people providing heating fuel are slammed. Those companies are scheduled out a couple of weeks,” Morton said. “Those businesses are busy with regular customers. So, people who are not on a regular delivery schedule are waiting. It is an interesting problem: Lots of folks like to shop the market for the best price and end up waiting on a fuel delivery.”

“If people needed a warming place, we would open up either the Casco Central Fire Station or the Casco Community Center. If we get a demand for that, we’ll make it happen,” Morton said.

Heat has been a concern in some of the town buildings, he said.

“We are closely monitoring all our public buildings. We’ve had to restart the furnaces at the community center. We have two furnaces so if one quits, we have a backup,” he said.

“In the rest of the buildings, we are keeping the heat higher to make sure there are no issues with pipes,” he said.

The Casco Post Office had frozen water pipes, which have since been thawed out, he said.

The midweek snowstorm will be sandwiched between cold waves.

So, town managers and plow crews are keeping an eye on the snowfall amounts predicted over the next two days.

“We are prepping for the storm. We have had to go out and resand the roads because they have slickened up. That is always a challenge in the wintertime,” Morton said.

“The company that we get the salt from is running low. We are trying to get three loads. The contractor we hired has a shipment coming in next week,” he said. “Right now, the salt is coming out of Portsmouth, N.H., instead of Portland.”

“We are good for this storm,” Morton said.

According to Pohl with NOAA, “What is going to happen over the next 36 hours, this storm system comes off the East Coast, and the relatively warm moist air over the ocean will cause the cold air to warm up.”

“As we finish this next snowstorm, the winds will turn back to the north, northwest. On Friday and Saturday, we’ll be right back into the deep freeze again,” Pohl said.

Bridgton Town Manager Bob Peabody said from his last conversation with the Public Works Department, the town is all set on sand and salt in preparation for the snowstorm that is coming.

“As you know this is extremely unusual cold. It is very taxing for your mechanical systems. It is also tough on the Public Works’ equipment. We are monitoring that,” Peabody said.

The Old Town Hall on North High Street “is the only building we are having a big problem with. For the last two days, we have had frozen pipes,” which forced the cancellation of recreation programs held there, he said.

As of Wednesday, Peabody was unable to say if recreation programs would be nixed, leaving active children cooped up at home for another day.

According to Pohl, this extremely cold weather pattern is coming from central Canada’s Prairie Provinces. Typically, this wintertime pattern impacts northeast Montana, Minnesota and Wisconsin, he said.

The cold spell has expanded to the rest of the nation “because we have an upper level trough that has allowed it to go as far south as it has.”

“It tends to stick around because the cold dense air stays near the surface. Even aloft that warm air has trouble mixing down to the surface because of that cold steady air,” he said.

“This is why you will find Mount Washington is warmer” than some places in Maine, Pohl said, referring to a weather pattern called inversion.

Bridgton’s town manager said, “This cold weather is affecting our town employees. Some of our employees have experienced frozen pipes and cars not starting. So, they’ve not been able to get in on the regular time. We all pull together and work as a team,” he said.

“Yesterday, all my cars started. I was a little worried because they struggled to turn over but they did start,” Peabody said.

The employees at NOAA — located off Route 115 in Gray — cannot use the weather as a reason to not be on the clock, Pohl said.

“For us, we kind of prepare for the worse. Everyone drives four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicles. If they don’t have a garage, they have block heaters,” he said.

“We just deal with it. We don’t have the option of not coming into work,” he said.

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