Arctic air to hit Seacoast NH, southern Maine: Record cold temps 'not out of the question'

An extreme Arctic cold front is barreling toward New Hampshire and Maine, expected to bring below-zero temperatures this weekend, a week after three winter storms hit the region.

Just how low will temperatures go, including Seacoast New Hampshire and York County in southern Maine?

“Records are not out of the question,” said Stephen Baron, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. “We’re definitely going to be approaching record lows for sure.”

National Weather Service forecasts predict 13 degrees below zero or colder on Friday night locally and Saturday's high temperature will be 6-8 degrees.

Work is ongoing at the iconic Granite State Minerals salt piles in Portsmouth Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, ahead of frigid weather expected this week.
Work is ongoing at the iconic Granite State Minerals salt piles in Portsmouth Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, ahead of frigid weather expected this week.

When will the frigid weather first hit Seacoast NH and southern Maine?

The cold coming from the Arctic Circle, according to Baron, was expected to enter the region Tuesday night with temperatures in the teens or lower. Temperatures were expected to rise on Wednesday and Thursday, though Tuesday’s "real feel" temperature was expected to give residents of New Hampshire and Maine a taste of what’s to come later in the week.

“We’re going to see some initial cold Arctic air lows with a wind chill factor that will make it feel like the single digits,” Baron said.

Temperatures were expected to return to the 30s on Wednesday and Thursday before dropping significantly Friday and Saturday.

How cold will it feel on Friday and Saturday in NH and Maine?

“It really dips again on Friday,” Baron said. “It’s going to be very breezy to boot. (There will) easily be temperatures below zero, in the teens below zero, then with a wind chill making it feel like the -30s to the -40s.”

Towns and cities along the coastline are expected to be “warmer” than interior and northern communities in New Hampshire and Maine. Still, Baron noted that areas throughout the Seacoast and southern Maine, such as Portsmouth, Dover, Kittery and York, will see high temperatures of 6-8 degrees Fahrenheit, with low temperatures in the negative teens, and wind chill making temperatures feel more like they’re closer to -40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frigid temperatures are coming to the Seacoast and Maine this week.
Frigid temperatures are coming to the Seacoast and Maine this week.

Communities throughout the region are likely to see temperatures vary by a matter of a few degrees between them, he added.

“If you’re out Friday night, it's going to be frigid. You’re really not going to notice a change from Friday night through Saturday because it's going to be so cold with the wind chills,” Baron said.

On Sunday, Baron noted temperatures will rise to the 30s.

How do the forecast temperatures compare to previous records?

The National Weather Service has official climate sites in Concord, New Hampshire, and Augusta and Portland, Maine, where records are kept.

The last time a system blew through and brought such frigid temperatures was in February 2016, according to Baron, adding wind chill temperatures dipped to about -35 degrees at that time.

Baron said the lowest-recorded high temperature for a single day on record in Concord came in 1908 at 8 degrees Fahrenheit. “So you can see how with a projected high of 8 degrees in Portsmouth we could get close to records,” he said.

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The last time actual temperatures (without wind chill) were less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit in Concord was January 2022, Baron said.

“This is just a shot of Arctic air,” he said. “The jet stream will have a little dip in it, and that's going to have Arctic air directly from the Arctic Circle push through it.”

The Seacoast and Strafford County New Hampshire area and southern Maine region is not expected to receive any precipitation during the period of frigid weather, though communities in northern mountain areas could see occasional snow showers.

What are the safest ways to heat your home, especially during extreme cold?

In the last five years, according to the New Hampshire state fire marshal's office, there have been about 7,500 reported house fires. Data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System shows that about one-third of those fires stemmed from home heating. This includes about 450 fires per year in New Hampshire, according to the fire marshal.

Frigid temperatures are coming to the Seacoast and Maine this week.
Frigid temperatures are coming to the Seacoast and Maine this week.

“Keep anything that can burn three feet away from space heaters, fireplaces, wood stoves, and radiators,” said state Fire Marshal Sean P. Toomey.

The fire marshal’s office is reminding the public that homeowners should not be using an oven or any cooking equipment to heat their home because it could cause a fire or carbon monoxide hazard.

NH fire marshal explains how to use space heaters safely

Space heaters should be turned off when someone leaves the room or goes to sleep, the fire marshal’s office advises. Portable heaters should come with an automatic shut-off switch. In the event of a portable heater tipping over, the switch would make it turn off.

“Plug portable electric heaters directly into the wall outlet; don’t use an extension cord or power strip,” the fire marshal’s office advises. “Kerosene heaters must be refueled outside.”

Homeowners should check to see that their residence’s smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are up to date and working, in addition to ensuring chimney vents are cleaned and inspected every year.

The fire marshal’s office made a series of home heating and fire safety recommendations, including establishing a three-foot “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters, installing a screen in front of fireplaces to avoid sparks flying, and using clean, dry wood to burn in fireplaces and woodstoves.

How to prepare your home for extreme cold

Tips on how to properly prepare for extreme cold are provided by the New Hampshire Department of Safety.

The department recommends homeowners keep their homes well-insulated, which can be done by putting weather stripping around doors and windowsills to keep warm air from escaping. Rooms not in use can be closed off with towels or rags stuffed in the cracks beneath the doors, and windows in those rooms should be covered at night.

Pipes can be kept from freezing by wrapping them in insulation, heat tape or layers of newspapers. “Cover the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture and let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing,” the department states.

Residents should learn how to shut off their water valves in the event of a pipe bursting. If pipes freeze, the department recommends that any layers of insulation or newspapers be removed and that the pipes should then be wrapped in rags.

“Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets,” the department continued. “This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.”

Homeowners should have an emergency kit at their disposal, one with rock salt and sand to address ice on their property, snow shovels and snow removal equipment, a flashlight with batteries, food and blankets.

What are the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite?

Exposure to extreme cold temperatures can cause hypothermia and frostbite, conditions that can become life-threatening and are more likely to affect infants and elderly people.

Hypothermia, according to the Centers for Disease for Control, is when a person’s body temperature becomes abnormally low due to stored energy being used up during elongated exposure to extreme cold.

“A body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well,” the CDC writes. “This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and will not be able to do anything about it.”

Symptoms of hypothermia, per the state Department of Safety, include shivering, slurred speech or mumbling, slow and shallow breathing, a weak pulse, lack of coordination, drowsiness and low energy, confusion or memory loss, loss of consciousness, and bright red, cold skin.

Frostbite, an extreme cold-induced injury to the body, causes a lack of color of feeling in affected areas. The CDC reports frostbite predominantly impacts the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes.

“Frostbite can permanently damage body tissues, and severe cases can lead to amputation,” the CDC adds. “In extremely cold temperatures, the risk of frostbite is increased in workers with reduced blood circulation and among workers who are not dressed properly.”

How can you tell if someone may have frostbite? The New Hampshire Department of Safety states the following symptoms indicate frostbite: cold skin and a prickling feeling, numbness, red, white and blue-ish skin or grayish-yellowish skin, skin looking hard or waxy in appearance, clumsiness stemming from joint and muscle stiffness, and skin blistering once a person rewarms, which is seen in more severe cases.

To avoid frostbite, the department recommends people outdoors doing “strenuous activities” avoid wearing cotton because, once wet, cotton takes longer to dry. People should wear water-repellent and hooded “outer garments,”  hats and gloves or mittens. People should cover their mouths to protect their lungs and attempt to stay dry and out of the way of wind.

Warming centers in Portsmouth and Strafford County to open for majority of week

In advance of the extreme cold, area warming centers have announced their intent to open for shelter.

The Willand Emergency Warming Center of Strafford County, located at 30 Willand Drive in Somersworth, will be open at least Tuesday through Saturday, Feb. 4, with hours of operation each day beginning at 5 p.m. until 9 a.m. the following morning.

More on the warming center:Willand Warming Center to open some Sundays this winter. Here's why.

The center is walk-in only and reservations are not required. Meal donations will be needed to support the center this week.

“We are asking all agencies to please get the word out to our unsheltered friends and loved ones,” states an announcement from the center's operator, SOS Recovery Organization.

In Portsmouth, the warming center at Cross Roads House, which is serving as Rockingham County’s official warming center this winter, was also set to be activated Tuesday night. It will be open each night through Saturday. Cross Roads House is at 600 Lafayette Road. The center will be open from 7 p.m. until 8 a.m. each day.

Each person using Cross Roads House’ warming center will be given a cot, a warm meal and access to a case manager on staff.

Operation Blessing executive director Tammy Joslyn said the agency’s eight-bed warming center neighboring Cross Roads House would be open all week, through Saturday, 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. each day.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: NWS Gray Maine forecasts extreme below zero temps for Seacoast, Maine