Wild weather a harbinger of things to come

Never mind the heavy downpours of late, much of Maine was still in a drought last week. That was despite a June 9 storm that spewed over 5 inches of rain in parts of Hancock and Washington counties, pummeling Acadia’s carriage roads and destroying a Birch Harbor bridge. The estimated cost of repairs for that storm alone is over $2.5 million. 

Last week another storm brought more rain and downed trees, taking out power to more than 2,500 Hancock County residents. Still, the deluge was not enough to make up for a deficit. 

Maine’s Drought Task Force convened virtually June 30 to discuss drought conditions across the state. May and June received less than the usual cumulative rainfall. Caribou and Portland logged the warmest June on record. Central and western portions of the state have experienced the driest conditions this season.

Reduced snowfall in winter and more intense storms at other times of the year are symptoms of the changing climate. Maine’s Climate Future 2020 Update from the University of Maine reports that average annual precipitation has increased 15 percent since 1895. That precipitation is more likely to come in the form of rain than snow. Since 1895, the depth of the state’s annual snowfall has decreased 20 percent. “Intense” precipitation events are more common, especially along the coast. The risk of flooding has grown. But while storms become more concentrated, they are increasingly interspersed with periods of drought.

Changing weather patterns have far-reaching impacts on agriculture, infrastructure and health. 

A mild winter and early spring were perfect conditions for a bumper crop of ticks this year, increasing Mainers’ risk of being exposed to Lyme disease. A case of Powassan virus, a rare tick-borne disease that can cause serious neurological problems, was recently reported in a Waldo County resident. Itch-inducing browntail moth caterpillars have also had a banner year. Dry spring conditions last year coupled with a warm fall helped the species grow in numbers and territory.

Maine, along with the rest of the U.S., has aging roads, bridges and water systems. Much of that critical infrastructure will need to be repaired or rebuilt with rising seas and heavier rainfall in mind. The two 48-inch diameter culverts that washed away under Route 186 in Gouldsboro June 9 are being replaced by 72-inch culverts that can carry more water. No entity or individual can effectively plan for the future without factoring in climate change. It will be costly.

More than just planning for the effects of climate change, is planning to mitigate those effects as much as possible. Maine has set ambitious environmental goals. Meeting them too will be expensive, but the cost pales in comparison to doing nothing.

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