Opinion

My oh my, hot and dry

At this writing, early Thursday morning, June 18, we remain very dry in Aroostook County. And heat? Oh, yes, I should say so. By the time you read this, we may well have challenged the record for the hottest temperature on record at Caribou, which is 96 degrees, recorded on both June 29, 1944, and May 22, 1977. 

More on the dangers of excessive heat, later in the column. And I will mention if the record was approached in my next column. Friday, June 19, is the last full day of spring, and that’s the day I think it could happen. The first full year weather records were kept at Caribou was 1940.

But let me get back to the issue of just how dry we have been.The Northeast Drought Monitor (search those three words to find the site) is the go-to source for drought information for our area. As of the last weekly report on June 11, most of The County was not in drought, save for far western Aroostook, which was in the least severe category of the drought rating system, called “Abnormally Dry,” which is rated “D0.” However, a weather spotter told me that the St. John River at St. Francis was the lowest he has seen it at this time of year, and he has lived there for a good long while.

Looking at the rainfall numbers for the two-month period, April 15 through June 15, this has been the fifth driest on record at Caribou, with 3.61 inches. The driest on record — and records go back eight decades — is 2.70 inches in 1982. Nine years ago, in 2011, Caribou more than tripled this year’s total for that same April 15-June 15 period, receiving 11.01 inches. I remember that spring and summer well, because I was golfing a lot in those years, and the courses remained green and lush all summer long.

Having followed the weather since I was a kid, I know that things can change on a dime, and what happened in Bangor in the summer of 1999 certainly qualifies. It had been a brutally hot and dry summer. In fact, that’s the very same year that Caribou set its record for most days 80 degrees or warmer in a season, with 51 of them, against the climatological average of 26.

The ground had been parched for weeks and weeks, and then came the deluge. Abundant tropical moisture from former hurricanes Dennis and Floyd delivered a full foot of rain (right on the nose) in less than one week. First, post-tropical storm Dennis brought 5.5 inches on Sept 11, followed by 6.5 inches on the 17th, courtesy of post-tropical storm Floyd.

Now, we don’t need a foot, but the ground sure could use a good, long drink.

When we do get a region-wide soaking in summer from a single system (not scattered showers and thunderstorms that give one town 2 inches and next town over just a few drops), it is, indeed, sometimes from a system of tropical origin. 

So, even though we live way up here in northern Maine, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the tropics, and the go-to site for doing so is the National Hurricane Center’s home page. There, you can access everything you’d need to know, including projected track. For the weather enthusiast, the data from the hurricane hunters is available moments after they have collected it, allowing you to get key information, such as the latest central pressure. You can convert from millibars to inches very easily by just using Google. Knowing the pressure trend is useful to see whether a hurricane is weakening or intensifying (pressure trending down means intensifying, pressure trending up means weakening).

Simply search “NHC”. Browse the site and shoot me an email if you have any questions to tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

I’ll close this week by returning to the subject of very hot weather. When it does get very hot, human health becomes a major concern, since excessive heat can be deadly.

If you, or someone you are with, experiences the following symptoms, it is an immediate medical emergency and 9-1-1 must be called: First, sweating that suddenly stops, without the person stopping the activity that was causing them to sweat. This is accompanied by a throbbing, pounding headache and a sharp rise in body temperature. Nausea and vomiting can also occur.

This is heat stroke, and heat stroke is a medical emergency.

So be careful out there and enjoy these summer days.  Here’s hoping for a “cooperative” Mother Nature for growers and gardeners alike.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

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