PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Aroostook County could smash wind chill records this weekend, while other regions of the state are expected to see their lowest temperatures in recent memory.
Starting Friday and continuing into Saturday, plunging temperatures and bitter wind chills of minus 60 or below will bring Arctic conditions not seen for several years in The County.
Health and public safety officials around the state are cautioning Mainers to avoid the frigid temperatures and stay inside if possible. The high in Bangor on Saturday is expected to be close to zero, with minus 40 wind chills, while Portland could experience its coldest temperatures in 30 years.
But the coldest temperatures will hit northern Maine, where threats of subzero cold and gusty winds prompted the National Weather Service in Caribou to issue both wind chill and blizzard warnings extending through Saturday.
Wind chills will match or break records in some areas, James Sinko, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Caribou, said Thursday. Across The County, the lowest recorded wind chills are minus 54.3 in Frenchville in 2004, minus 58.6 in Caribou in 1951, minus 46.7 in Presque Isle in 1957 and minus 56.8 in Houlton, set in 1995.
The weather service is forecasting wind chills in Aroostook from minus 55 to minus 60 through Saturday.
Though it will be dangerously cold everywhere in Maine, Aroostook will get the brunt of the cold, and gusty winds will create a rare phenomenon called a ground blizzard, Sinko said.
Ground blizzards happen when an Arctic cold front causes plummeting temperatures and high winds. If there are several inches of snow on the ground, whiteout conditions are possible, according to the weather service.
“We have a lot of fluffy snow out here in the farm fields, especially, and on the hills, and with 40- and 50-mile-an-hour winds all that is going to get picked up and blown around,” Sinko said.
People who must go out should have emergency kits in their cars, and if they get stranded, they should call for help and stay inside their vehicles, he said.
Frostbite and hypothermia are real risks in bitter cold like this, and anyone affected should go inside immediately, said Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah in a statement Thursday.
“What we are truly hoping for is that the power stays on, and people should stay at home,” Presque Isle Fire Chief Darrel White said. “If you do not have to travel, be prepared for today rather than tomorrow.”
If people must travel, White recommended taking along extra blankets, food and water.
People should take the warnings seriously and shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help, said Easton Fire Chief Greg White.
The Presque Isle Fire Department will open the Sargent Family Community Center for emergencies. If power fails, Presque Isle High School or the University of Maine at Presque Isle will open, Darrel White said.
Ashland will keep its Recreation Center open all weekend. In case its generator fails, warming centers are available at the Portage and Marsardis fire stations, Ashland Town Manager Cyr Martin said.
Houlton has opened the Gentle Memorial Building, 128 Main St., as a warming center. The building will be open until 5 p.m Friday, Feb. 3, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. for anyone needing to escape the brutal cold.
Other shelters will be open in Ashland, Blaine, Caribou, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Fort Kent, Limestone, Perham, Portage and Sinclair, according to the Aroostook County Emergency Management agency. Those needing shelter should visit the agency’s Facebook page for details or contact their local fire and police departments.
In Bangor, shelters and warming centers are expanding their hours Friday and Saturday.
Several area schools announced closures as a result of the weather.
The Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone will have what is likely its first-ever snow day on Friday. School officials directed students to remain in the dormitory from 10 a.m. Friday until conditions improve.
The Madawaska School Department, SAD 27 in Fort Kent and SAD 1 schools, which include Presque Isle and Mapleton, will conduct remote learning snow days on Friday.
Schools closed Friday include RSU 39 (Caribou and New Sweden), SAD 20 in Fort Fairfield, Easton School Department, SAD 70 in Hodgdon, RSU 29 in Houlton and the Van Buren District School.
A storm over Canada is sending the frigid conditions to Maine, according to Mike Haggett of Pine Tree Weather in Kennebunk.
“Why the area is going to deal with bone shattering wind chill is, with the storm to the Northeast bombing out so severely, that wind will be an issue,” Haggett said in an explainer on PineTreeWeather.com. “Wind gusts 30-40-plus mph Friday into Saturday is what will bring the freezer burn.”
Fortunately, it’s a quick cold snap that will move away from the state on Sunday, Haggett said.
The National Weather Service forecast warmer Sunday temperatures in the teens with calm winds.