Members of the state’s Drought Task Force met Wednesday to assess the conditions that have emptied wells, lowered stream beds and left forest floors drier than veteran rangers can remember.

They were not anticipating the drenching rain that swept across the state, dumping more than 4 inches in places such as Wells.

Portland saw its first significant rainfall in over a month, breaking a previous record for the date that was set more than a century ago.

Despite the wet conditions, Tom Hawley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray, is skeptical that the storm will pull the state out of potential drought conditions.

“We will wait and see how everything responds to this rainfall,” Hawley said. “The rain was certainly helpful, but all it might have done is delayed by a few days going into a drought.”

The last severe drought hit Maine in 2001-2002. A study by the Drought Task Force found that more than 17,000 private wells dried up, more than $32 million in crops were lost, and wild blueberry growers recorded crop losses of 80-100 percent.

Hawley said the state is heading into a seven- to 10-day period of extreme heat — temperatures could hit 90 degrees by Sunday — and dry conditions.

The task force met Wednesday because members had grown increasingly concerned that the state was on the verge of a drought.

Rob McAleer, director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency, said the task force had been receiving reports that there had been a surge of applications for permits to drill drinking wells, as well as reports of streambeds whose levels had dropped.

Forest fire dangers remained high until Wednesday’s storm.

“We’ve had some record-breaking dryness in the forest. We’ve been getting reports from some of our veteran forest rangers saying that they have not seen the forest floor this dry in their entire career,” said Kent Nelson, a fire prevention specialist with the Maine Forest Service.

Thus far, only two forest fires in Maine have burned more than 10 acres, but Nelson remains worried, and he urges people to use caution with outdoor fires.

State Geologist Robert Marvinney said the driest area of the state lies in a swath between Rumford in western Maine and Houlton in Aroostook County. In that area, groundwater levels are extremely low.

The National Weather Service said York County received the heaviest rainfall amounts Wednesday, with Wells getting 4.1 inches. Hawley, the meteorologist, said Portland got 2.62 inches of rain, breaking the record for the date of 2.02 inches set in 1901. The last significant precipitation in Portland was July 21, when the city got just under 1 inch of rain.

Camden received 3.3 inches of rain Wednesday, Bath, 1.6 inches and Cornish 1.5 inches.

“Most of the water we got today is going to be absorbed by the foliage and the trees. Very little is going to make its way into the groundwater system,” Hawley said. “I still have some concerns because I think it will dry out pretty quickly next week.”

Today’s forecast calls for partly sunny skies with highs in the low 80s. The weekend should bring more nice weather, with sunny skies and warm temperatures, Hawley said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]


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