EAST MADISON — How warm was it this winter?

Well, according to a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey’s water science center in Augusta, the ice on most of Maine’s lakes and ponds melted away in March – the earliest since records have been kept.

“It’s close to a month earlier, the ice-out date,” Caelan Lapointe, a college student doing research at the survey said Friday. “I was given a list of contacts of the people who monitor the ice-out dates and called them. All of them were the earliest on record.”

Historical ice-out dates are recorded for 29 lakes in New England for publication by the survey.

On average, the observers have kept records for 108 years, with a range of 64 to 163 years, according to the survey’s website.

This year’s record ice-outs include March 21 on Damariscotta Lake in Jefferson, March 24 on Cobbossee Lake in Monmouth, and April 17 on Eagle Lake in Aroostook County.

On Wesserunsett Lake in East Madison, ice-out this year was March 23, the earliest date since records were kept there, starting in 1884, according to lake shore resident Greg Dore. He and a friend have followed the seasonal change for years, adding to a record started by a camp resident.

“I think it’s part of global warming,” Dore said. “I think the extreme weather conditions we are experiencing is part of global warming – it was in the 80s in March, that’s definitely unheard of.”

The previous earliest date for ice-out on Wesserunsett was March 24 in 2010 and in 2003. Before that the record was March 31 in 1981, Dore said, who is also Skowhegan’s road commissioner.

He said the average date for the ice leaving the middle of Wesserunsett Lake is April 19.

Lake ice-out dates have been historically recorded in New England for practical reasons such as lake transportation and out of general interest.

Lake shore residents and their families and friends often have competitions to see who can most closely predict the date the ice will leave a lake or pond.

Changes, or lack of changes, in long-term data such as ice-out dates in New England and other regions of the world are documented for several reasons, according to the survey’s website.

Reasons include validation of global atmospheric data at the local level and analysis of the effects of climatic changes on regional ecosystems.

The latest ice-out day on the lake was recorded on May 5, 1888, according to a chart kept by Dore and his friend Philip “Stubby” Steward of Skowhegan.

Dore has been keeping the ice-out records since 1998.

“Stubby’s father-in-law had been keeping track prior to Stubby and his went back to the mid-’20s, early ’30s,” Dore said. “His father-in-law got them from a farmer in East Madison who owned a camp on the lake and they have been keeping track since 1884.”

James Brown, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Gray, said this winter was the second warmest in the Portland area, with an average daily temperature in December, January and February of 30.3 degrees. The normal temperature is 25.6 degrees.

Dore predicts that this coming winter will be an average one for cold and ice on Maine’s lakes and ponds. Traditionally, he said, records show the following year will be below average.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Doug Harlow can be reached at 612-2367 or at:
[email protected]