Wicked Winter Weather Part 2: Bitter Cold 

Brutal snow and ice storms are some of the many things that define winter in Maine. But you can’t forget another winter variable: bitter cold.With a thick blanket of snow on the ground, thermometers throughout the Pine Tree State often show temperatures below zero during the winter season. But what are some of the coldest readings we’ve ever seen?“20 below zero.”“Probably like negative 25.”“About minus 20.”“Ten or 15 below.”“Colder than this!”“Probably about 35 below.”“Probably 20 below.”“Probably 30 below.”“27 below.”“I’ve been out in 45 degrees below zero.”“About negative 25.”No matter what way you look at it, when you see thermometer readings below zero, “Baby, it’s cold outside” definitely seems like an understatement. Some of the coldest weather of the winter season arrives in mid-January, with average daytime highs near 20° to the far north and near 30° along the coast. Overnight lows are typically a few degrees below zero up to the north and in the mid-teens in coastal areas. But as Mainers know, temperatures can dip down far below these averages.Some of the coldest readings on thermometers ever seen in the Pine Tree State were well below zero. 32 degrees below zero in Bangor. 39 below in Waterville. 45 below was the record set back in Rangeley. 42 below in Greenville. A bit milder for those record lows, but by no means warm! The all-time record low in the state of Maine is 50 degrees below zero, which occurred just a few years back on January 16 of 2009 in Big Black River.But seeing those low temperature readings on a thermometer and actually being outside in the bitter cold are two different things. Firefighters from Bangor and surrounding communities had to experience the latter back in January of 2004 when the historic Masonic Hall building on Main Street in Downtown Bangor caught fire and was transformed into an ice palace. High temperatures on January 15th only reached -3 degrees, with overnight lows dropping down to near 15 below zero. On top of that, a strong, biting wind of 30-40 mph brought wind chills of at least -50 degrees. All these variables combined to make for a difficult and dangerous night for firefighters. With such cold conditions, firefighters had to take precautions to keep themselves warm and keep their gear working.John Prentiss, Bangor Fire Department Shift Captain, had this to say about the fire:“We knew it was cold coming in that day but I remember I was in the snorkel bucket for the majority of the time I was down there and we weren’t up there for 10 minutes before we turned into icicles. Our gear was totally coated with water spray that turned immediately to ice.”And that’s exactly what happened to water that hit the Masonic Hall building. According to Greg Hodge, Bangor Fire Department firefighter/paramedic: “The wind definitely hampered things. Not only for making things more cold but that’s what gave everything the spray. You’d be shooting water up toward a particular window, but you’d have to arc it so that it would come in and that would create just this spray. So we were just making snow. We were making snow and ice.”When all was said and done, nearly 5 million gallons of water encased the 136-year-old Masonic Hall building in ice. The building was demolished just a few days later due to structural deficiencies, but the iconic pictures and stories of the ice palace that made headlines around the globe will live on forever, serving as an example of the wicked winter weather Mainers experience.You can find some more information concerning record winter lows on Rob’s facebook fan page here.