Yes, it really was that cold outside Tuesday. The good news is it’s going to warm up a bit before it gets cold again.

The arctic blast that hit Maine with its coldest weather of the season will moderate slightly Wednesday and Thursday and then – because it is January, after all – the cold will return for the weekend, forecasters said.

Thermometers at the Portland International Jetport bottomed out at 1 degree around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Greg Cornwell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said. Temperatures were much colder in western and northern Maine, ranging from 2 below zero in Fryeburg to 14 below zero in Caribou, 15 below in Greenville and 20 below in Presque Isle. Daytime highs reached about 14 degrees in Portland.

Temperatures overnight into Wednesday morning are expected to be slightly warmer, but winds will ease, Cornwell said, and temperatures Wednesday will rise to about 31 degrees by midafternoon.

Tuesday’s blast was the coldest in Maine this winter and windchills made it feel like the negative teens along the coast and negative 20s and 30s farther inland and north. Normal high temperatures this time of year are right around freezing with lows of about 16 degrees, Cornwell said.

“It’s the coldest air we’ve seen in a few years,” said Michael Clair, another meteorologist with the weather service in Gray.

The last time temperatures dropped this low was January 2018, according to the weather service, but it’s not expected to be record setting.

The previous coldest high temperature for Portland was 4 degrees on Jan. 6, 2018, but because Tuesday’s cold air arrived overnight, the high for the day of 14 degrees was recorded at about 1 a.m.

Cornwell said that after a couple days of slightly less frigid temperatures, it will turn colder again for the weekend, with low temperatures a few degrees either side of zero. But there’s only a slight chance of snow – that will come on Friday, when a storm moves up the coast, although it’s expected to produce only some light snow that won’t reach far inland.

There’s a possibility of more snow next week, he said, but the track and intensity of that system are still uncertain this far out.

Tuesday’s cold prompted the weather service to issue a wind chill advisory for most inland and central areas until 10 a.m. Tuesday. It warned that cold wind chills could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 30 minutes. A wind chill warning was in effect until noon Tuesday for parts of Oxford, Somerset and Franklin counties. In was dangerously cold in those areas, with wind chills that could cause frostbite in as little as 10 minutes, the weather service said.

Flagger Roger Boisvert conducts traffic around line workers on Free Street in Portland on Tuesday. Boisvert said the cold weather could be worse. “It could be raining. It could be snowing. At least the wind has died down somewhat,” he said. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

A small craft advisory also was issued, with the weather service warning that vessels could become inoperable due to freezing spray.

“With extreme cold temperatures coming to Maine this week, I encourage Maine people to take every precaution to stay warm and to check on friends, family and neighbors to ensure they are safe,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “For those who are concerned about their ability to stay warm, support is available by calling 2-1-1, with warming centers now opening in communities across the state. Please be safe and stay warm.”

Warming centers were open Tuesday in Portland and Biddeford for people experiencing homelessness who need to get out of the cold.

Henry Myer, director of Preble Street’s Street Outreach Collaborative, said a network of service providers, medical providers, the city of Portland and a representative from a national homelessness organization has been working over the past eight weeks to plan for winter emergencies, including dangerously cold conditions.

The collaboration led to the opening of a warming center from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the First Parish Church at 425 Congress St. The space was staffed by several organizations that provided coffee, meals, evaluation of medical issues, harm reduction supplies and warm winter gear.

“The severe lack of adequate and professionally run shelters is a real challenge for our clients and we’re trying to keep them alive and safe while that gap is being met,” Myer said.

Starting early Tuesday morning, outreach workers from Preble Street and other agencies connected with clients at campsites, in alleys where they’re sleeping and at meal distribution sites to let them know about the warming center. By 1 p.m., 39 people had been to the warming center, including one person who was evaluated for possible frostbite.

Preble Street leaders say there is an urgent need for donations of gently used winter gear for people who are living outside. Donations can be dropped off at the agency’s receiving center at 18 Portland St. in Portland from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday and Friday.

In Biddeford, the Seeds of Hope Neighborhood Center is extending its hours to give people experiencing homelessness a warm place to stay. The center’s overnight warming center will stay open until 1 p.m. Wednesday. Warming centers are open in Saco at the Community Center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the Saco Transportation Center from 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Postal carrier Traczie Bellinger walks alongside Hannah Avenue in Portland on Tuesday while delivering mail. Bellinger said she was taking the cold weather in stride. “They’ve never canceled a day of mail in my experience,” she said.  Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Maine Emergency Management Agency maintains a list of warming shelters across the state. People also may call 211 for help finding a nearby warming center.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention posted a warning on social media reminding people how to prevent and recognize cold-related illnesses. The arctic air and brisk winds combine to make dangerously cold wind chills that increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite, the most common cold-related illnesses in Maine, the CDC said.

People experiencing frostbite are often unaware it is happening because frozen tissue is numb. Signs of frostbite include redness or pain in any skin area, white or grayish-yellow skin, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy and numbness, the CDC said.

Hypothermia can occur at very cold temperatures, but also when a person is wet and becomes chilled. Signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In infants, symptoms include bright red, cold skin and very low energy. If a person’s temperature is below 95 degrees, they should get medical attention immediately, the CDC said.

When going outside in extreme cold, the weather service recommends people wear three layers of tops and jackets, including one insulating layer, and two layers of pants. They should also wear a warm hat, face mask, an outer layer to keep out wind, gloves and waterproof boots.

Roger Boisvert, a 61-year-old flagger for Quality Traffic Control of Sabattus, knows all about dressing in layers during extra cold weather. He has been a flagger for the last five years and has spent three winters working outdoors. On Tuesday, he worked on Free Street while bundled up in extra layers, fleece-lined pants and both mittens and gloves. He tucked handwarmers in his boots and took a break every 30 minutes or so to warm up.

“This is the coldest I’ve seen it in a while,” Boisvert said. “But we’re true Mainers. We can get through it.”

MEMA recommends that people make sure alternate heat sources are in proper working condition and properly installed and that they follows manufacturers’ guidelines. Heaters should be kept at least 3 feet from anything that can catch fire. People should never use the oven to heat their home because it can be a fire hazard, the agency said.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy contributed to this report.


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