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County expecting some respite from snow, bitter cold

Residents of Aroostook County endured a blizzard and bitter cold over the last week but can look forward to a little respite with temperatures expected to rise above freezing on Thursday and Friday.

“Temperatures are supposed to warm up by the end of the week,” Priscilla Farrar, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Monday. “It should be up to 40 degrees by Friday.”

That will feel outright balmy to Mainers who had gotten accustomed to waking up to freezing air and face-blistering winds. Daytime temperatures across much of the state during the significant cold snap that started Dec. 27 have peaked in the single digits and fallen below zero at night.

Thermometers in The County recorded temperatures as low as 22 degrees below zero in Presque Isle last week, minus 19 in Caribou and minus 20 in Houlton, according to Farrar.

Last week’s blizzard also dumped more than a foot of snow across the state, with an NWS spotter reporting 22 inches in Madawaska on Friday. Farrar said the winter storm also dropped 18.8 inches on Caribou, 18 inches on Presque Isle and Fort Kent, and 17 inches on Houlton.

The snow and cold wreaked havoc on the state, closing schools, government offices and many businesses at the end of the week. The unyielding cold continued to freeze pipes and stress heating systems over the weekend and forced the closure of schools in Limestone and Caribou again on Monday.

Caribou experienced “a complete white-out” for most of the night Thursday during the “bomb cyclone,” according to meteorologist Rich Norton of the NWS Caribou office.

“Looking out our window at the water tower 1/16 of a mile away, if you didn’t see the beacon light going around you wouldn’t know it was there,” Norton said on Friday. “And most of the night we couldn’t see the beacon light.”

Houlton Public Works Director Chris Stewart said Friday that the storm appeared to be at its worst from 1-5 p.m.

“It seemed like the wind was the worst in the afternoon, and after that it got better from a visibility standpoint,” Stewart said. “The crew did a great job clearing things out.”

He said because of the blowing snow Friday morning, some roads in the rural areas were down to one lane, so his department’s focus was to clean those areas up as best they could.

Many side roads in town also were narrowing because of the snowbanks. Stewart said it would be at least three or four more days before his department would be able to start hauling snow away.

“We probably have about a week’s worth of snow hauling to do,” Stewart said. “Then we will work on widening out the side streets by pushing the banks back.”

Police across Aroostook County reported numerous accidents and cars off the road following the blizzard.

Caribou Police Administrative Assistant Laura Adams said Monday that the department had handled several weather-related incidents during and since the storm.

“We had six reportable accidents,” she said. “We also responded to multiple reports of vehicles off the road or stuck, and had multiple vehicles abandoned due to road conditions and cars being stuck in drifts.”

Adams said none of the drivers or occupants in Caribou reported any injuries.

The snowpack in Aroostook County stood at 27 inches before an additional 2-4 inches fell on Monday, according to meteorologist Farrar.

Temperatures are projected to thaw and rise above freezing this Thursday and Friday in The County with even a chance for some rain at the end of the week.

Writers Don Eno of the St. John Valley Times, Joseph Cyr and Jen Lynds of the Houlton Pioneer Times, Christopher Bouchard of the Aroostook Republican, and Beth Brogan and Callie Ferguson of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report.

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