The way Bill Spiller sees it, the drought could be worse.

With little rain in recent months and no significant rainfall on the horizon, the Wells farmer has been relying on his irrigation system to keep his crops of raspberries and vegetables healthy.

“Things are quite dry, but the crops aren’t looking too bad yet,” Spiller said. “Back in 1963 and 1964, things were ungodly dry.”

According to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, over half the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, with an increasingly large percentage of York County seeing moderate or severe drought.

By comparison, last year at this time, only about 22 percent of the state was abnormally dry.

Since January, Portland has recorded 21.02 inches of rain, almost 4 inches less than average, according to the National Weather Service.

The drought conditions may be perfect for tourists looking for sunny beach weather, but the lack of rain forces farmers and nursery operators to rely more heavily on irrigation systems to keep their crops growing.

And it appears there won’t be relief any time soon.

“You don’t get into a drought overnight and you’re not getting out of drought overnight,” said Eric Schwibs of the National Weather Service in Gray.

“You need a good soaking rain over several days so it can soak into the ground. That’s not going to happen soon. It may not be until fall that we see significant relief.”

Much of the Northeast is also seeing drought conditions, with sections of New York and Massachusetts among the driest.

The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that western New York, the state’s Finger Lakes region, and much of central and northeastern Massachusetts are experiencing severe drought conditions along with southern New Hampshire and southwestern Maine.

Several towns in Massachusetts have instituted mandatory water restrictions.

“Severe” is the third most serious of five grades of drought.

Most of the rest of New England as well as New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are considered either abnormally dry or under moderate drought conditions.

Spiller, who has been running Spiller Farm for decades, said the upside to having less rain is that he’s seen less disease in crops than usual.

“The quality of what we’re growing is very good this year,” he said.

The dry weather is forcing the owners of Broadturn Farm in Scarborough to make heavier use of an irrigation system to keep the produce and flowers grown on the 13-acre farm healthy. The system was installed several years ago using funds from a state bond to support agriculture, said farmer Stacy Brenner.

“When we first started farming and didn’t have irrigation, it was stressful,” she said.

“Now it’s a little like farming in California. With the assurance of being able to put water on our crops, it’s not as stressful. It’s much harder on folks without (irrigation).”

Tom Estabrook, vice president of Estabrook’s in Yarmouth and Kennebunk, said the moderate drought conditions in Cumberland County and severe drought in York County haven’t affected the garden centers’ plants, although employees have been doing a little extra watering on hot days. Customers, however, haven’t been having as easy a time, he said.

“We haven’t seen a major shift in sales, but we’ve certainly seen an increase in phone calls from customers who are having problems with plants in their yards,” Estabrook said. “People have questions about how to care for plants and get them through this dry spell.”

Estabrook said he’s been telling people to water their yards and gardens more frequently, especially before thunderstorms move through the area. If the ground is too dry, the rainwater runs off instead of soaking into the ground.

“Get out there and water, water, water,” Estabrook said.

In Ogunquit, where people have been crowding the beach for relief from the heat, town officials are thinking about both fire safety and caring for new plants and trees along Route 1.

Mark O’Brien, the town’s fire chief, said highway department crews have been busy watering the new vegetation planted as part of the $14 million Route 1 reconstruction project.

Normally the trees and plants would only need to be watered every few days, but crews have been out daily, he said.

The town has not been told of any restrictions on water usage, he said. Ogunquit is served by the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Wells Water District.

O’Brien said the fire department is not issuing burn permits on days with class 3 or higher fire danger, including Friday.

Fire crews have been called in recent weeks to multiple grass and woods fires, but so far haven’t run into any major wildfires. He is asking people to be extra careful if they’re using sparklers and to refrain from using fireworks or floating lanterns, which are not allowed.

“It’s very dry out there,” O’Brien said.

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