From south to north, Maine’s lack of snow puts winter activities on hold

A runner jogs past the Public Market House in Monument Square in Portland on Friday morning. Gregory Wreck/Staff Photographer

Snowmobiling is usually in full swing in Maine by early December. Even if that means heading north for deep snow. However, this year was not the case.

Light snowfall, late-season rain, and especially hot temperatures make snowmobile trails bare in southern Maine and muddy and unusable in Aroostook County. Those who enjoy sports or rely on them to bring in business are still stuck in a retention pattern, said Rendell Buckingham, 50. He has lived his entire life in the town of Aroostook County in Ashland, where he serves as Regional Director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

From Portland to Caribou, the state experienced drier-than-normal snowfall, warmer temperatures, and wetter conditions from October 1 to December 31, 2022. .

The first two weeks of January seem to follow the same trend.

About two inches of snow covered southern Maine on Friday, but by Sunday it had melted to barely an inch in most places, said John Palmer, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Palmer said Portland typically got 4.7 inches of snow in the first week of January, and last year it had 5.4 inches.

This week’s weather forecast calls for storms on Thursday and Friday, but it looks like just a winter mixture in most parts of the state, except maybe in the mountains.

From October 1 to December 31, Portland had 5.8 inches of snow cover, nearly 12 inches below its average of 17.7 inches for the period. Meanwhile, rainfall was heavier than usual and the average temperature in the city was 42°C, about 3°C ​​higher than the previous average of 38.6°C.

A similar pattern is seen 300 miles north of Caribou. Between October 1, 2022 and her December 31, Caribou received her 11.3 inches of snow cover. Usually that number is closer to 17 inches.

Like Portland, temperatures in Caribou were warmer than normal. The average temperature is 36.8°C, well above the previous average of 30.8°C.

For communities in northern Maine, the lack of snowmobiles, which are integral to the culture and economy of towns like Ashland, has been especially difficult, Buckingham said.

“Local businesses rely on snowmobiling in the winter,” he said. “It’s a lifeline for restaurants, grocery stores and motels to survive the winter. It’s what winter tourism all depends on.”

Buckingham and his family recently sold the Ashland Food Mart grocery store, but before that, he said business from snowmobile tourists was his way of getting through the winter.

Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray, said it wasn’t clear whether climate change was having an impact. Tubbs said this he needs to do more research to determine if the two are related. However, he said there are some clear climate-related patterns that could explain the warmer, less snowy, and wetter end of 2022.

Climate change is causing average temperatures to rise around the world, including in Maine. Since 1895, the average annual temperature in Maine has increased by about 3 degrees. Warm air can hold more water vapor, resulting in more precipitation. Rainfall in the state has increased by 6 inches (15%) since 1895.

Weather patterns in coastal Maine are influenced by the ocean, although some parts of the country are seeing more snow. The sea generally remains warmer than the air in the winter and cooler than the air in the summer. So when the wind blows from the coast to the land in winter, it carries warm air with it, shielding coastal areas from the cold, and can even turn precipitation from snow and ice to rain.

This pattern is exacerbated by rising ocean temperatures, making the Gulf of Maine one of the fastest warming marine ecosystems in the world.

A lack of snow in southern Maine has put recreational activities such as Nordic skiing and snowshoeing on hold. It also affects businesses that rely on snow, from ski trail operators to snow plows.

During the winter months, one of Southern Maine’s most popular outdoor recreational activity destinations is New Gloucester’s Pineland Farms. There are 30 kilometers of trails for walking, trail running, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, but Pineland’s latest trail report wasn’t too encouraging.

“This morning (Saturday) we got some fresh ground snow. The trail is currently open for hiking and biking only,” Pineland Farms said in a Jan. 7 report. “Watch out for muddy or icy areas and stay as far as possible on the side of the trail. Think positive, it’s going to snow soon!”

Smile Hill Farm in Westbrook, a short drive from Portland, is in a similar situation. Smiling Hill Farm operates over 25 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails.

Warren Knight, one of Smiling Hill’s operators, says the farm needs at least six to eight inches of snow before the ski trails open for a pleasant skiing experience.

“We haven’t groomed the trails this year,” Knight said Sunday night. “We haven’t had a day where we can ski.

Farther south, in Dayton, York County, Harris Farm operates a 40-kilometer trail through dairy forest and fields. In a trail conditions update posted on January 7, Harris Farm reports: The sledding hill should be busy as yesterday it was about 3 inches. “

Snowmobiling statewide has been adversely affected by the lack of snow and abundant rain in December.

In a post on its website, the Maine Snowmobile Association said, “Mother Nature hasn’t been good here in Maine.” Many bridges were damaged, trees were uprooted and trails were flooded.Please contact your local club to see how you can help.”

In Falmouth, the Falmouth Snow Voyagers reported on the club’s Facebook page that the 37-foot-long main connecting bridge hit a tree during the last storm and will require major repairs before the next snowstorm. bottom.

In Gorham, some snowmobiles are desperate.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the trails are not open,” the club known as the Gorham Snowgoes said in a Facebook post on Sunday. I was. “There was no snow and muddy conditions, so I thought that was obvious, but there were still people riding the trail.

But this winter has been particularly tough for Aroostook County, a nationally recognized snowmobiling destination. Buckingham said other areas in the Northeast, like Buffalo, snow piled up while it rained in northern Maine, making the ground soggy and no snow.

“Snowmobiling is a pretty big part of what we do here,” he said. “This is how I deal with winter, otherwise it can get a little depressing.”

Staff writer Denise Hoey contributed to this article.

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