Oliver Taylor, 6, of Saco, soaks in some last moments at the beach as his family gets ready to head out on Thursday when temperatures soared into the 90s across the state and the heat index topped 100. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Maine summers are indeed getting hotter.

And the state, which has more experience dealing with extreme cold than extreme heat, finds itself unprepared.

Portland summers are 2.4 degrees warmer than in 1970, with two additional weeks of abnormally hot weather. That’s pretty close to the average increase nationwide. Portland’s summer nights are 3.6 degrees warmer than normal, which puts it on the sweaty side of the 2.6-degree national average.

Last week’s record-setting heat wave offers a sneak peek at future summers in Maine if we don’t cut the global emissions that are changing the climate. Average summer temperatures would be up to 4 degrees hotter by 2050 and almost 9 degrees hotter by 2100, making it feel like the daytime highs last week in Skowhegan.

“(This) was absolutely a preview of what to expect at the end of the century,” said spokesman Peter Girard of Climate Central, a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization of scientists and communicators. “A heat wave like this is unusual in Maine now, but it will become quite common by 2100.”

Or, put another way, the average summer high in turn-of-the-century Portland will feel like Scranton, Pennsylvania, does now, or about 8.9 degrees hotter. With summer highs expected to be 7.6 degrees hotter, turn-of-the-century Bangor and Presque Isle will feel like Trenton and Paterson, New Jersey, respectively.


Heat waves like the one we just endured are more common and intense because of climate change. Scientists agree the climate is warming because of the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, that release heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and warm the Earth.

Nighttime temperatures are warming faster because clouds during the day can shield the earth from the sun’s rays and moderate the heat, while clouds at night only serve to hold heat in and reflect it back to the earth’s surface.


The hotter summers will have public health impacts. More heat-related illnesses are almost guaranteed, state health officials say, but extreme heat is also likely to exacerbate underlying medical conditions like heart failure, COPD, obesity, diabetes and respiratory conditions like asthma.

A study published last week in JAMA Cardiology found people in cooler climates like Maine’s with less air conditioning are at higher risk for heart problems during heat waves. The longer these heat waves last, the greater the risk. This is concerning as Maine summers are only expected to get hotter in the future.

Hot nights limit our ability to cool off and recover from high-heat days and can amplify health risks.


Between last Sunday and Friday, 86 Mainers had gone to the emergency room for heat-related treatment, according to state data. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention records indicate that’s the highest one-week visit count since July 2018, when 117 Mainers were treated for heat-related illnesses.

This week’s ER numbers total less than 1% of all emergency room visits, but Wednesday’s 29 visits and Thursday’s 35 totaled 1.52% and 1.66%, respectively, on those two days.

Portland reached 93 degrees Thursday and Augusta reached 97, both breaking records for the date.

Grace, 6, and Erick, 4, Hajdamowicz eat ice cream in the shade in Old Orchard Beach on Thursday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The health impact will even be felt in towns that don’t necessarily experience the most extreme temperatures because their populations are more vulnerable to the effects: a lot of older adults living alone, people who work outdoors or people who live in older housing with no air conditioning. They also may have less tree cover and more pavement.

“Even though Maine’s climate is generally temperate, Maine is not well adapted to things like extreme heat,” said Rebecca Lincoln, a toxicologist with the Maine CDC. “I think there is a lot of room for catch-up in our adaptation and our social structures.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Madawaska, Livermore Falls and Van Buren are most susceptible to heat among Maine communities. They have 17 high-heat days a year along with sizable populations of residents who have heat-sensitive medical conditions, work outside or are older and live alone.



Older adults are more likely to have medical conditions in need of attention but are also more reliant on medical devices that run on electricity, according to the National Institute of Health. They are at risk of a heat wave because of the power outages that can accompany the soaring temperatures.

Maine is home to the nation’s oldest population on average and has the largest percentage of residents 65 and older. About 3.5% of Maine’s Medicare recipients – or 12,868 of 370,671 people – rely on a medical device that runs on electricity, according to the emPOWERmap released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The national average is 4.9%. Wyoming tops the chart at 12.7%.

Reliance on electric medical devices varies across Maine. In Aroostook County, 6.4% of Medicare recipients rely on them. Washington and Penobscot counties trail far behind at 4.9% and 4.8%. Some towns may offer seniors’ batteries to store the energy needed to power these devices during an outage.

In addition, seniors who need oxygen or prescription drugs may feel unsafe leaving their homes in a heat wave. Some older adults may also be using prescription drugs, including certain antidepressants and blood pressure medication, that may increase vulnerability to thermal extremes.

Although it’s getting better, Maine lacks one of the biggest heat shields: Only 60% of Mainers live in a home with air conditioning compared to almost 90% in the rest of the Northeast, according to the Maine Climate Council. The AC rate is about 40% in rural Hancock, Knox and Washington counties.


A child rides a paddleboard on an outgoing tide on the Spurwink River in Scarborough on Thursday. Getting in the water was one way to deal with the extreme heat gripping the state. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

These kinds of details are why the definition of what constitutes a heat wave can vary from place to place, said Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer for MaineHealth. In Maine and New Hampshire, a heat wave is defined as three or more days of 90-degree weather or a heat index of 95 degrees for two hours.

“Just because we know people in the South who are living with much higher temperatures doesn’t mean we can scoff at heat events in New England,” Mills said. “Our bodies are not as used to heat events, and we do not have the infrastructure (e.g., AC or stone houses with thick walls) to handle the heat.”

Some rural Maine towns are taking a page out of the urban playbook by creating cooling stations for residents when temperatures soar, especially for seniors who tend to live in older housing without central air conditioning and who may not be able to afford to run a window unit.

Dover-Foxcroft is using part of a $50,000 climate resiliency grant from the state to create an extreme weather vulnerability map and emergency shelter plan. Several town buildings can offer a warm winter respite, but it is harder to find a public building that is easily cooled and big enough for a crowd.

John Emberson, an employee at Maine Hardware, grabs a stack of fans for a customer Thursday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Opening a cooling station doesn’t mean people will use it, however.

Caribou opened its second-ever cooling station last week to help residents deal with record-breaking heat. On Wednesday, the temperature in town hit 96 degrees, while the heat index, or heat plus humidity, was 103 degrees. No one came, said Gary Marquis, the city’s parks and recreation director.


“(It) was extremely uncomfortable with the hot temperatures,” Marquis said. “Unfortunately, no one ever came. I say unfortunately, but this must mean that people felt comfortable in their own homes, or they went to a friend’s house or apartment who had a cooler area to stay.”

The community splash pad, on the other hand, was very well used last week, by both children and parents, Marquis said.

While the cooling center wasn’t used this time, Marquis said he doesn’t think it will be the last time he opens one this summer. If so, Marquis said, he will be prepared.

“I don’t feel it was unnecessary,” he said. “That’s what we’re here for, for our citizens, our community.”

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