PENOBSCOT — The sheep at Horsepower Farm will soon be eating hay that farmer Andrew Birdsall had bought to feed them over the winter.
“The pastures are dry,” Birdsall said. “The gardens are dry. We watered what we could and we did alright.”
But, the sheep rely on grazing in the pastures, where nothing is growing thanks to the drought.
“I’ll probably be using hay that I got for the winter and I’ll have to buy more hay because my hay crop is less than half what it usually is,” Birdsall said. “I can tell you it’s a bad one.”
Indeed, all of the state of Maine is currently in a drought with over half the state classified as being in “severe drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Severe drought means crop and pasture loss are likely and water restrictions may be imposed.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has declared Aroostook County a Drought Disaster Area.
“The potential to see a similar declaration for Hancock County grows as the lack of season rainfall continues,” said Andrew Sankey, Hancock County Emergency Management Agency director. “We had report of our first dry (dug) well at a Bucksport residence this past weekend.”
“A far greater consequence at the present is the ever-increasing risk of wildfire due to the overly dry season, wind conditions, continued recreational uses (BBQs, campfires, etc.) and all the other typical factors,” Sankey said. “We also seek to have homeowners and businesses clear flammable debris like leaves, needles, brush and felled branches, limbing-up trees to 6 feet to help protect structures in the event there’s a fire outbreak.”
With Maine seemingly trapped in a pattern of dry weather, does that mean a winter without snowfall?
“The dry weather we see does not have a strong correlation with the winter outlook,” said meteorologist Tyler Southard. “This is largely determined by large-scale weather patterns on a global scale largely influenced by sea surface temperature conditions over the oceans. Since our weather in the Northern Hemisphere moves largely west to east with the jet stream, conditions upstream determine what we see here over the United States and Northeast.”
“We gauge some of this on an index of temperatures over the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the oscillation of cooler or warmer water temperature,” Southard said. “This is where the terms El Niño and La Niña come from, depending on what the index is.”
“Currently, it looks like we will be in a neutral to weak La Niña this winter (cooler waters), which typically means slightly colder on average with near normal precipitation for New England,” the meteorologist said. “There are other determining global patterns that can change this, though. The science of long-range forecasting is still far from perfect when it comes to these seasonal outlooks, so always take caution.”
The drought may affect the brilliance of changing leaf color this fall.
Southard said drought during the growing season usually makes tree leaves change color earlier and the color lasts for a shorter period.
“Some trees respond to drought stress by skipping the fall color change altogether; leaves just turn brown and fall off quickly,” said Southard. Other factors include how warm the fall days are and the range of temperatures leading up to the color change.
The U.S. Forest Service said the amount of moisture in the soil also affects autumn colors.