PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With wind chill temperatures expected to plunge to dangerous lows Sunday, World Cup Biathlon organizers in Aroostook County rescheduled races to Saturday and the Big Rock Ski Area in Mars Hill announced it would be closed Sunday.
National Weather Service meteorologists said the conditions would be the coldest seen in the Northeast this year.
The weather service’s Caribou office warned Friday that wind chill readings of 30 to 40 degrees below zero across much of the state on Sunday could result in frostbite, hypothermia or even death if residents do not dress properly and take precautions when going outdoors.
Heavy snow also is forecast for portions of Maine with Hancock County and southern Penobscot County expected to get 8 to 16 inches early Saturday into Saturday night.
The cold snap that started Friday follows several weeks of unseasonably warm weather, which caused the organizers of an annual dog sled race in New Hampshire to cancel their event for lack of snow. Also, the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, which draw hundreds of competitors to Camden, were moved to a neighboring ski slope and shortened last weekend because of thin ice on the pond where racers finish their high-speed runs.
With the wind chill temperatures expected to become more extreme on Sunday, Big Rock Ski Area in Mars Hill announced on its Facebook page Friday that it would be closed Sunday. Sugarloaf and Sunday River ski resorts were expected to be open throughout the weekend. Big Rock was open Friday and was scheduled to be open Saturday as well.
The forecast also prompted World Cup Biathlon officials at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle to decide on Friday to move the women’s 6 kilometer relay, which originally had been scheduled for just after noon Sunday, to 4:10 p.m. Saturday.
It’ll be better for the athletes as well as the spectators and the many volunteers who help make the competition happen, Jane Towle, a coordinator for the biathlon event, said Friday.
European television stations, which are broadcasting the competition live to an estimated 60 million viewers across Europe, are moving around prime-time TV schedules to accommodate the change, Towle said.
Other races Saturday were to go ahead as planned, she said.
The lowest allowable temperature for a competition to be conducted is 20 degrees below zero, according to biathlonmaine.com.
“Saturday actually doesn’t look too bad,” Todd Foisy, science and operations officer at the weather service’s Caribou station, said Friday of the forecast for the Presque Isle area.
“It will be about 2 degrees warmer than [Friday] with highs around 11 degrees, although with more clouds,” Foisy said. “Winds will be about the same, with wind chills running around minus 5 degrees.”
And with ample room in heated tents that spectators and volunteers can use to warm up, no one should be too cold on Saturday, Towle said.
Men and women biathletes raced Friday in the pursuit races, as temperatures hovered around zero in light winds. The men skied 12.5 kilometers and the women 10 kilometers, each interspersed with four bouts of shooting.
“This was really hard, the first time in a long time that we raced in this kind of weather,” said biathlete Martin Fourcade of France in a press conference after winning first place. “I think this was just at the limit. My left hand was almost frozen. Luckily I shoot with my right.”
The Reuters news agency and BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.