Record temperatures across New England this summer have sparked wildfires, withered crops and prompted a string of water restrictions in many communities.
Portland and Caribou in Maine and Burlington, Vermont, broke records for the hottest summer while Concord, New Hampshire, had its hottest summer in 144 years, said Michael Clair from the National Weather Service in Maine.
“We had long stretches of temperatures above average that just added up to the hottest summer on record in many locations,” Clair said. “A lot of it was driven by the overnight lows. We had a lot of warm nights.”
The warmer conditions are nothing new for the region.
Like other parts of the country, temperatures spikes have been more noticeable over the past decade. Portland, for example, has had six of its 10 warmest summers since 2010 while Concord has had four of its warmest in the same time span, according to the National Weather Service.
One reason for the sweat-inducing conditions is climate change. Scientists say the overall context of more extreme weather and higher temperatures shows global warming at work.
New England is typically cooler than many other regions of the U.S. because it’s cooled by breezes off the ocean surface, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for commercial firm Atmospheric Environmental Research. But ocean temperatures themselves were elevated as a result of climate change, Cohen argued, resulting in “the record or near-record heat across our region.”
Several hundred miles to the south, it was also the hottest summer on record in Providence, Rhode Island, while Bradley International Airport in Connecticut, tied the record set in 1973, said Hayden Frank, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Norton, Massachusetts.
In northern New England, where summers tend to be cooler, Portland had 13 days out of 92 this summer where the temperature climbed to 90 degrees or above, and went 42 days from May 16 to June 27 with only a half-inch of rain in total.
The hot weather comes amid the coronavirus pandemic and that hasn’t been lost on health experts.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the weather likely drove people outdoors, but noted that outdoor activity is less likely to transmit the virus than indoor activity.
On the other hand, prognostications that hot weather could cause the virus to burn out were clearly wishful thinking from the beginning, Shah said.
“We didn’t put any stock into ‘the summer will cure this.’ That’s pure silliness,” he said. “Being outdoors is protective. That’s just rooted in science.”
Shah and other public health officials have nonetheless expressed concern that Labor Day weekend could cause a spike in virus cases.
The weather has also posed challenges for farmers.
Farmers in northern Maine fear the severe drought will put a dent in the potato crop harvested in the early fall, typically valued at about $150 million.
According to the latest data from the United States Drought Monitor released Thursday, more than 28% of New Hampshire — mostly in the south — is also experiencing severe drought. Nearly a third of Maine and Connecticut is experiencing severe drought while more than 35% of Massachusetts is seeing dry conditions that can result in water restrictions, bans on outdoor burns, damage to crops and fish kills.
“After the drought of 2016, many farms across the state invested in irrigation infrastructure to mitigate future dry conditions,” said Josh Marshall, a New Hampshire Farm Bureau spokesperson. “Those investments have helped farms who have access to water, but it does come at a cost, both in terms of money and time.”
Adrien Lavoie, the owner of Lavoies Farm in Hollis, New Hampshire, said there’s been no major storm since May. As a result, they have lost 25 acres of corn because of a lack of water and 15 acres of pumpkins because the ground was too dry for planting.
“It’s one of the driest summers we have ever had. All the ponds are dry and it really sucks,” said Lavoie, 40, whose 240-acre farm has been in his family for generations. “It’s costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost crops sales, extra labor and extra irrigation.”
Firefighters and forest rangers were kept busy, too, snuffing out hundreds of wildfires that burned hundreds of acres in New Hampshire and Maine. No deaths were reported.
A recent lightning-strike fire in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, just off the Appalachian Trail, was under an acre, but required a lot of time and firefighters to put it out, said Chief Steven Sherman of the New Hampshire Forest Protection Bureau.
“The fire had burned two feet down into the ground,” he said. “The ground fuels are just so dry, there’s no moisture ... they had to sit there and dig it out with hand tools.”
Summer comes to an end Sept. 22. The NWS Climate Prediction Center, said there is a greater than 50% that temperatures will return normal in fall. Precipitation, too, is expected to be near normal levels.
But for now, the hot temperatures have been a boon to some businesses.
Jade Evian, the manager at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream in Portland’s Old Port, said it was a good time to be scooping ice cream.
“It’s been a really hot summer and sales definitely went up,” she said. “It’s been really hopping.”