Dec. 27—As the outside temperature plummeted from a balmy 50 degrees to the mid-teens, my family of four humans and three dogs piled into my 350-square-foot studio apartment and snuggled up in blankets and winter coats to shield ourselves from the freezing weather quickly seeping through my single-pane windows.

We lit all the candles we could find in my apartment — the only source of both light and heat available.

My sister and parents had months before decided to visit me in Maine for the Christmas holiday and had rented a home near the ocean in Saco for the weekend, hoping to relax and take some walks along the beach. Those plans were upended when a fierce storm ripped through the state on Dec. 23, flooding coastal areas and knocking out power for hundreds of thousands of people as temperatures dropped well below freezing. My family members, from New York, were near Camp Ellis, squarely in the path of the storm surge.

The storm that hit Maine this weekend is likely to be remembered for years to come. It brought near-record-breaking winds, fueling powerful waves that suspended ferry service between Maine’s island and mainland communities, damaged historic monuments and caused power outages that shut down Portland’s airport for hours and left people around the state without heat over the bitterly cold holiday weekend.

Vicious weather also tore through much of the rest of the country. Freezing temperatures descended on the Southeast, deadly blizzards pummeled the Great Lakes region and wind chills plunged the real-feel temperature to 45 degrees below zero in some areas of the northern Mountain West. All this made travel dangerous and sometimes impossible as highways became ice-slicked and flights were canceled.

But when my sometimes melodramatic mother called me around 7 a.m. Friday morning to say that

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