The entire state of Maine is now officially experiencing drought conditions.

John Yanga harvests fingerling potatoes last month at Fresh Start Farms in Falmouth. He says that the potatoes are small because of the drought. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“The last time we were in this widespread and severe of a drought was in the summer of 2002,” said meteorologist Michael Clair of the National Weather Service in Gray.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map of Maine, released Thursday, classifies most of the state as in moderate drought, with parts of Aroostook, Piscataquis, Washington, Penobscot, Somerset and York counties in severe drought. Although no areas of Maine have reached either of the two most serious stages of drought – extreme or exceptional – Aroostook potato farmers have expressed concern about the impact of the prolonged dry weather on their crop.

The lack of rain is “the main driver” of the drought, Clair said, although the hot weather, which leads to more evaporation, has played a role. This year, Portland experienced its hottest summer on record.

According to the National Weather Service, Portland was 4.25 inches below normal for precipitation for the year on Aug. 14, with 23.81 inches since Jan. 1. From June 1 to Aug. 14, Portland received 5.95 inches, compared to 8.86 inches normally.

The average temperature for the three-month period in Portland was 70.5 degrees – more than 1.5 degrees warmer than the previous record (set just two years ago) and 3.6 degrees hotter than the “normal” summer temperature in the city. The daily average highs and lows are used to compute those figures.

In July, Portland’s average temperature (computed using the daily average highs and lows) was 73.7 degrees. While that might seem delightfully cool to many residents of the mid-Atlantic and southern U.S., it was nearly 5 degrees hotter than normal for Mainers.

Some parts of the state have a chance of showers and thunderstorms during the next several days, but “it won’t really help with the drought,” Clair said. “It waters the lawn more than anything.”

What’s needed to end the drought is several good steady rainfalls or a tropical system come fall, he said.

It’s not possible to link any one drought event to climate change, Clair said. Also, because New England tends to have a rainy climate, “when we go below average, it’s dry but the rivers are still flowing and there is still water around,” he said. “We still have rain, just less than we normally see.”

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