News Feature

Originally published in Community News, January 16, 2014
A winter to remember
Winter weather’s ups and downs bring challenges

by Jessica Brophy

December was not a record-breaker, but its temperatures were below normal and its snowfall above average, according to a National Weather Service report.

Temperatures averaged from four to seven degrees below normal across eastern Maine with snowfall in many places 200 percent or more of normal.

While December was a bit out of the ordinary, the winter to date isn’t too unusual. “This has been a once in a four-year or once in a five-year winter,” said Maureen Hastings, a forecaster with the NWS in Caribou.

It’s likely last winter’s unusually warm winter, and a few mild winters before that have skewed the reception of this winter. “It’s a little more of a shock than maybe it would be,” said Hastings.

Susan Farley, a family assistance advocate with Washington Hancock County Community Agency, said this winter has been harder on families than most. The organization went through $60,000 from its The Heating and Warmth Fund in the first week of the year. The fund, which comes from donations, is now fully expended.

“I’ve been here five years, and this is the worst I’ve seen it,” said Farley. The cold weather meant people went through fuel faster than expected, she said, but what really exacerbated problems was the ice storm that knocked out power for many for days.

“Pipes were frozen and burst, people lost everything in their refrigerator or freezers,” said Farley. “It may not sound like much, but if you’re on a fixed income and you lose all your food, you’re stuck with the choice: food or fuel?”

WHCA also administers federal funds from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Those funds have not been exhausted, though Farley said they arrived somewhat late in the season.

“By the time the LIHEAP funds were available, it had already been cold for awhile,” said Farley.

“Even the LIHEAP benefits have averaged about $562,” said Farley, who said that is less than 200 gallons of heating oil, which might only last a few weeks in the low temperatures the area saw in late December.

Sylvia Wardwell of Wardwell Oil in Sedgwick said from her perspective, “We haven’t had a winter like this in seven or eight years.”

Deliverymen have had to wear cleats, and trucks have gotten stuck two or three times, she continued. “Sometimes it’s very hard to get around,” she continued. This is amplified by those who don’t shovel paths to the oil intake.

Some people also think they’re out of oil when they’re not, said Wardwell. “Some people go all berserk,” she said.

Other people have been very conscientious about shoveling paths, and want to help, she continued.

One might think, at the very least, the cold weather is going to reduce the pest population, right? Not likely, said University of Maine Cooperative Extension educator Marjorie Peronto.

“The cold really has not had much impact,” said Peronto. “Insects overwinter a good inch or two below the surface of the ground, and though the air temperatures have been cold, the ground is covered with snow and ice and is insulated.”

Unless there is a significant length of time with bare ground and cold temperatures, the insects are “fat and happy” underground, and will return in spring.

Whether the cold and snow returns or stays away, there are still many weeks left of winter.

“There’s a long stretch still ahead of us,” said Farley.

For more information about the THAW heating fund, or about how to apply for LIHEAP funds, visit Donations to THAW can be made out to WHCA, with “THAW fund” in the memo line, and mailed to 248 Bucksport Road, Ellsworth, Maine 04605.