After another day of brutal cold and another snowstorm, anyone hoping for relief Wednesday will likely be disappointed.
The air mass that settled over Maine on Tuesday brought the coldest weather in two years, with temperatures ranging from 5 below zero in Portland to 20 below in Fryeburg and 19 below in Farmington, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.
And a snowstorm that began Tuesday evening was expected to last into the early morning and dump 3 to 6 inches of snow along the southern Maine coast and as much as 8 inches in the midcoast.
John Cannon, a meteorologist with the weather service, said Wednesday will be partly sunny, with high temperatures in the upper 20s. But winds as strong as 20 mph will create a wind chill that will make it feel like zero degrees.
Tuesday’s cold, and the forecast for more snow, sent social service outreach workers into the woods and alleys of Portland, looking to convince vulnerable people to seek shelter from the elements.
The HOME Team, run by Portland’s Milestone Shelter for people with substance abuse problems, scoured the city Tuesday afternoon to make sure clients got indoors and didn’t fall prey to the cold.
“There’s more of a sense of urgency when you know there’s a storm on the way,” said Joseph McNally, assistant shelter director and coordinator of the HOME Team, which works to convince people with alcohol abuse problems to get into the shelter or the agency’s detoxification program.
Ryan Searles, an outreach worker for the HOME Team, said cold weather can be especially dangerous for people whose judgment is impaired by alcohol.
“They fall asleep in a snowbank in the park. They think it’s going to be 20 minutes and it’s three hours and they end up in the emergency room blue from the cold,” he said.
Peggy Lynch, outreach coordinator for Preble Street, and Bill Burns, the coordinator of the social service agency’s adult day shelter, trudged through deep snow on the city’s outskirts Tuesday afternoon, scouting some of the area’s campsites to make sure homeless people had enough blankets and warm clothes.
Lynch carried a donated pair of winter boots for a person who might run the risk of frostbite with shoes that weren’t insulated.
Burns said some homeless people choose to live far from the city’s center, and can be vulnerable with no one to check on their well-being.
“The calculus is trying not to be detected by police or property owners and still have a sense of safety,” Burns said. “Obviously, we want more housing for everybody because people should not have to choose.”
HEATERS POSE THEIR OWN RISKS
State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said extreme cold can lead people to use heaters in ways that can be dangerous.
“They need to think about the proper heater for the type of environment they’re in,” he said. “These kerosene heaters, they need to think about venting, to make sure there is air movement throughout the building.”
People with wood stoves must use them properly, and that relates to how much air is getting to the fire, he said.
“In a condition like this, the thing we find is people are … trying to get an entire day out of one log, so they damp it way down and wind up with a cold fire,” he said. “A cold fire with cold temperatures builds up creosote,” the flammable coating that can build up inside a chimney.
If people suspect something is wrong with their wood stove, or hear a loud whooshing sound that might indicate a chimney fire, they should call the fire department immediately. The response won’t cost the resident but could save their home, he said.
Invariably, some people who lack proper heating fuel will run their ovens to generate heat, he said, and that can create a fire danger when the heating element overheats. With gas stoves, the danger comes from toxic exhaust potentially building up in a room.
“Yankee ingenuity and common sense may not always be on the same playing field,” Thomas said.
AAA SCRAMBLES TO HELP MOTORISTS
The cold also caused problems for many motorists.
Patrick Moody, spokesman for AAA Northern New England, which covers Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, said the three states average 1,500 to 2,000 calls for roadside assistance on a normal winter day. On Monday, AAA Northern New England provided service to nearly 4,500 vehicles. Moody said he expected that number to be eclipsed on Tuesday.
“We’ve been taking 200 calls every half-hour,” he said.
Moody said AAA hires seasonal workers every winter and most are working this week. The association works with a network of contractors to provide assistance.
“Our contractors are all doing the same thing: staffing up, making sure their equipment is ready to go,” he said.
Many of Monday’s calls came from people whose vehicles were stuck in the remnants of the weekend snowstorm. Most of the calls on Tuesday were what Moody called “cold related” calls, typically jump starts for dead car batteries.
“Batteries last, on average, about three to five years, so if you haven’t had it checked, it’s a good idea,” he said. “Also, people should reduce the amount of load on the battery. So if you can unplug that car charger, you should probably do it.”
Moody also said motorists should keep an eye on their tires to ensure they are properly inflated and have enough tread.
Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:firstname.lastname@example.org