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Mainers are used to the cold. Maine winters have conditioned us to expect, maybe even welcome the cold and snow.
We are not used to the type of cold arriving Friday, however.
It’s not just a dreary forecast, it’s a potentially dangerous one. Vanessa Corson of the Maine Emergency Management Agency told Maine Public on Wednesday that temperatures are expected to dip into the negative 30s and 40s with wind chills.
“The cold temperatures that we’re expecting on Friday and Saturday only happen about once in a decade, and we haven’t seen this kind of weather since about 2016,” Corson said. “So we’re urging Mainers, this is the time that you want to be indoors.”
State and local leaders have been rightly raising alarm bells this week, cautioning people to be careful in this extreme cold, providing advice and pointing to resources for those who need help staying warm.
“Temperatures this weekend will be extremely – and dangerously – cold across the state,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement Tuesday. “Please take extra precautions, be careful if you go outside, and be sure to check on your family, friends, and neighbors to make sure they are okay. MEMA will be working closely with county emergency agencies and local partners to support warming centers.”
MEMA and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention have amplified information from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about hypothermia and frostbite along with tips for dressing in cold weather from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. According to the U.S. CDC, hypothermia victims are often older people without adequate food, clothing or heating; babies sleeping in cold rooms; people outdoors for long periods of time; and people who drink alcohol or use drugs. Frostbite risks increase for people with poor blood circulation or inadequate clothing for the cold temperatures.
“If you have to be outside this weekend, remember to take care, and dress for bitter cold weather. Frostbite and hypothermia are real risks when temperatures are this extreme,” Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah, soon to depart the Maine cold, said in a Thursday statement. “If you start experiencing signs or symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, it’s important to get inside immediately.”
Various officials and organizations have also provided advice on how to try to avoid emergency situations at home from heating devices or frozen pipes. Bangor Assistant Fire Chief Andrew Emery told News Center Maine that people should keep extra heaters three feet away from other objects and avoid trying to thaw frozen pipes with a torch or open flame. For people running heat pumps in their homes, Sean LaPlante of LaPlante Electric said to keep them clear of snow and debris, and to turn them slightly higher than normally set and leave them at that temperature.
These and other tips are important for people trying to stay warm at home these next few days. Above all, this extreme cold is another bitter reminder that far too many Mainers don’t have access to warmth and shelter — this week and throughout the year. Among all the advice and support, the most critical will be the local warming center and shelter services that will help soften the blow of these cold days for vulnerable Maine people.
Here in Bangor, as Bangor Daily News reporter Kathleen O’Brien has outlined in detail, there are existing and expanding daytime, overnight and 24-hour shelter and warming center resources.
Anyone in need should look for information about local warming centers and shelters. And anyone with the means to help should consider donating resources or their time as volunteers.
There will be a need for individual generosity in the next few days, yes. There is also a continual need for more policy action statewide. Maine needs more housing, of all types. We need more support for our unhoused and underhoused neighbors. Counties and local governments need to fully send long-held American Rescue Plan Act funds to the rescue. Collective investment, in addition to personal kindness, will be key to weathering this and future cold together.