Prepare now for arctic weekend

CARIBOU, Maine — Once-in-a-decade wind chills are forecast for The County this weekend as local and state officials encourage Maine residents to prepare ahead of time. 

The extreme cold could last for 48 hours, starting on Friday afternoon, according to National Weather Service offices in Gray and Caribou. Aroostook County wind chills are forecast as low as 60 below zero. 

“Temperatures this weekend will be extremely — and dangerously — cold across the state,” Gov.Janet Mills said in a press release. “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.” 

Strong winds, gusting at 45 m.p.h., added to the recently fallen fluffy dry snow can lead to whiteout conditions and drifting across roadways, especially in open areas of the county,  Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency Director Darren Woods said. The agency is closely monitoring the event and communicating with local officials.

Residents should prepare for travel if they must leave home, the County agency said. People should top off their gas tank in case their vehicle needs to run for an extended time, and to keep the fuel line from freezing.

Such extreme cold can cause frostbite in as little as five minutes, Woods said in a statement, urging individuals and businesses to take precautions for possible poor travel conditions and extreme cold temperatures ahead of this weekend’s weather.

People should consider delaying all travel, but should drive with extreme caution if travel is absolutely necessary, weather service officials said, warning that travel could be life threatening. 

A storm travel kit should include jumper cables, an ice scraper, a car cell phone charger, blanket, extra drinking water and food, tire chains, flashlight, extra clothing, a first aid kit and anything else that might help survival if stranded, forecasters said.

To prevent hypothermia and frostbite, dress in layered clothing, gloves, hats and proper footwear to reduce skin exposure, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Additionally, the weather service issued a winter storm watch beginning late Thursday night and  continuing through Saturday evening. Whiteout conditions are possible, making travel treacherous. Strong winds could cause extensive damage to trees and power lines, forecasters said. 

During whiteout conditions, individuals are safer inside the vehicle because exposure to the extreme cold and wind for even a short time is dangerous. Shivering and feeling cold or numb are warning signs that the body is losing too much heat, officials warned.

For the latest conditions, follow the National Weather Service or the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency on Facebook.