A runner jogs past the Public Market House in Monument Square in Portland on Friday morning. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Snowmobiling is usually in full swing by early December in Maine, even if it means going north to find the deep snow. But that wasn’t the case this season.

With little snowfall, a lot of rain and particularly warm temperatures, snowmobile trails are bare in southern Maine and slushy and unusable in Aroostook County. Those who enjoy the sport or rely on it to bring in business remain in a holding pattern, said Lendell Buckingham, 50, who has lived in the Aroostook County town of Ashland his whole life and is a regional director for the Maine Snowmobile Association.

From Portland to Caribou, the state saw below average snowfall, warmer temperatures and more rain than usual between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2022. Because temperatures and overall precipitation were up, even the sparse snow that did fall didn’t last long.

The first two weeks of January appear to be following that same trend.

Around 2 inches of snow blanketed southern Maine on Friday, but by Sunday it had melted to barely an inch in most places, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jon Palmer.

Palmer said that during the first week of January Portland normally gets 4.7 inches of snow and last year received 5.4 inches of snow.


This week’s forecast is calling for a storm Thursday and Friday, but for most of the state – possibly except for the mountains – it looks like just a wintry mix.

From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, Portland received 5.8 inches of snow, almost 12 inches below its average of 17.7 inches for that time frame. Meanwhile, it rained more than usual and the city’s average temperature was 42 degrees – about three degrees higher than the historical average of 38.6.

Similar patterns can be seen 300 miles north in Caribou. Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2022, Caribou received 11.3 inches of snow. Usually that number is closer to 17 inches.

Like in Portland, Caribou temperatures were warmer than usual. The average temperature was 36.8 degrees, much higher than the historical average of 30.8 degrees.

For northern Maine communities, it’s been especially hard without snowmobiling, which is integral to the culture and economy of towns like Ashland, said Buckingham.

“Local businesses are reliant on snowmobiling in the winter,” he said. “It’s a lifeline to get through the winter for restaurants, grocery stores and motels. It’s what all the winter tourism depends on.”


Buckingham and his family recently sold their grocery store, Ashland Food Mart, but before that, business from snowmobiling tourists was how they made it through the winter, he said.

It’s not clear whether climate change is playing a role, said Hunter Tubbs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. Tubbs said more research would need to be done to tell whether the lack of snow is connected. But he said there are some clear climate-related patterns that could explain the warm, low-snow, high precipitation end of 2022.

Climate change has been increasing average temperatures across the globe, including in Maine. Since 1895, Maine’s average annual air temperature has risen by around 3 degrees. Warmer air can hold more water vapor, which leads to more precipitation. The state’s precipitation has increased by six inches since 1895, or 15 percent.

While some parts of the country are seeing more snow, coastal Maine weather patterns are impacted by the ocean, which stays generally warmer than the air in the winter and colder than the air in the summer. So in the winter when winds blow off the coast onto land, they bring warm air with them, insulating coastal areas from the cold and sometimes turning precipitation from snow or ice to rain.

This pattern is exacerbated by warming ocean temperatures and the Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest warming ocean ecosystems in the world.

The lack of snow in southern Maine has put recreational activities such as Nordic skiing or snowshoeing on hold. And it has affected businesses that rely on snow, from ski trail operators to plow companies.


One of southern Maine’s most popular destinations for outdoor recreation activities during the winter months is Pineland Farms in New Gloucester. It has 30 kilometers of trails for walking, trail running, Nordic skiing and snowshoeing, but Pineland’s latest trail report was not very encouraging.

“We received a little fresh snow this morning (Saturday) to cover the ground. Currently the trails are open to hiking and biking only,” Pineland Farms said in its Jan. 7 report. “Watch out for muddy and icy spots and stay to the side of the trails as much as possible. Keep thinking positive, we will get snow soon!”

Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, a short drive from Portland, is in a similar bind. Smiling Hill Farm operates more than 25 kilometers of groomed cross country ski trails.

Warren Knight, one of Smiling Hill’s operators, said the farm needs at least 6 to 8 inches of snow to pack and groom before ski trails open for a comfortable ski experience.

“We haven’t groomed any trails this year,” Knight said Sunday night. “There have been no skiable days. We have our agricultural interests to fall back on and that helps pay the bills. But so far it has been a tough winter (for skiing).”

Farther south, in York County, the Harris Farm in Dayton operates 40 kilometers of trails that wind through the forests and fields of its dairy farm. In its trail condition update, posted Jan. 7, Harris Farm reported, “Still waiting for enough snow to open up trails. We did get about 3 inches yesterday, so the sledding hill should be busy.”


Snowmobiling across the state has been negatively impacted by the lack of snow and abundance of rain in December.

“Mother Nature has not been good to us here in Maine,” the Maine Snowmobile Association said in a post on its website. “Many trails took a beating from the high winds and rain we received on Dec. 23rd. Many bridges have been damaged, trees uprooted and trails flooded. Please contact your local clubs to find out how you can help.”

In Falmouth, the Falmouth Sno-Voyagers reported on the club’s Facebook page that a major connector bridge, which is 37 feet long, got hit by a tree during the last wind storm and will need major repairs before the next snow storm.

In Gorham, some snowmobilers are getting desperate.

“Folks, the trails are not open,” the club known as Gorham SnoGoers, said in a Facebook post Sunday. Photos showed that a snowmobile had been operated over muddy trails. “We thought that was obvious due to the lack of snow and muddy conditions but still there were people riding the trails. Unfortunately, they caused damage to a land owner’s property.”

But this winter has been particularly rough for Aroostook County, which is nationally recognized as a snowmobile destination. It’s been frustrating to see other areas of the northeast, like Buffalo, get pounded with snow while getting rain in northern Maine, where the ground is now soggy and the snow won’t stick, said Buckingham.

“Snowmobiling is a pretty big part of what we do up here,” he said. “It’s a way to deal with the winter otherwise it can be kind of depressing.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this story.

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