PORTLAND, Maine — Seen from the city’s Fort Allen Park, overlooking Portland Harbor, the Peaks Island ferry glided past South Portland’s Bug light just before dawn on Saturday. From that distance, the vessel made no sound and appeared to hover above the water, its hull hidden from view by swirling, purple sea smoke.
After a warm January, an Arctic cold snap has brought the temperature all the way down to 13 degrees below zero. With the wind whipping across Munjoy Hill, where the park stands, it felt more like 30 below.
The sudden temperature drop meant frozen pipes and dead car batteries for many Portlanders but it also brought sea smoke.
The “smoke” is actually a kind of fog. It forms when frigid air mixes with a shallow layer of saturated warm air floating immediately above the ocean. The thin layer of relatively warmer air above the water is then cooled beyond the dew point. At that point, it can no longer hold much water vapor, so the excess condenses out, making sea smoke.
Across Portland Harbor, in South Portland, photographers gathered at Willard Beach. Raising their lenses with gloves hands, the bundled-up shooters mate frames featuring the smoke obscuring Portland Head Light, just around the coastal corner in Cape Elizabeth.
Weather forecasts for the rest of the week are predicting much warmer weather. Saturday’s sea smoke may be the last they get to shoot for the foreseeable future.