A woman wades out in water while trying to figure out how to move her car Wednesday in the flooded Eastern Maine Medical Center parking lot in Bangor in this 2015 file photo. A climate report released Feb. 13, 2020 by the University of Maine indicates that Maine is getting warmer, wetter, and its day-to-day weather less predictable. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Maine’s climate is not only changing due to global temperatures increasing overall, but the rate at which it is changing is speeding up, according to researchers at the University of Maine.

UMaine climate scientists, in conjunction with researchers at Acadia National Park’s Schoodic Institute, have released updated findings on Maine’s changing climate, building upon reports they released in 2009 and 2015.

In the 2020 version, the report’s authors say greenhouse gas emissions continue to propel changes in Maine on land and in the water. Overall, Maine is getting warmer and wetter, but there also is greater variability in the weather, with occasional periods of drought in between intense storms and temperature swings in the winter that can produce single-digit temperatures one day and melting conditions the next.

Areas along the coast of Maine are warming faster than sections in the interior or northern parts of the state, and winters are getting warmer, according to the report. Average minimum temperatures in Maine are getting warmer at a much faster rate — 60 percent — than the state’s average maximum temperatures.

Maine’s “average annual temperature has increased 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 124 years, and the rate of warming has increased most notably since 1960,” researchers wrote in the report. “The six warmest years on record [in Maine] have occurred since 1998.”

Maine’s growing season has been extended by more than two weeks, as both springs and falls have been getting warmer, while water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have shown the biggest increases in the summer, making it one of the fastest-warming bodies of ocean water in the world. And Maine’s weather — conditions that change naturally on a day-to-day basis, as opposed to longer-term trends that affect what type of plants and animals are found in the state — is becoming less predictable.

“More and more, we seem to be experiencing ‘winter weather whiplash,’ with rapid shifts from freezing to thawing conditions, heat waves and rain in the depths of winter, and cold or snow in spring and fall when the leaves are still on the trees,” researchers wrote. “Arctic blasts cause cold snaps and can contribute to major snowstorms during otherwise mild winters.”

Overall, Maine is getting more precipitation, most of it in the form of rain and increasingly less of it as snow, though some winters — such as 2008 and 2019 — still produce heavy amounts of snowfalls, researchers wrote in the report.

But despite the overall increased average rainfall, Maine still experiences episodes of drought, largely because much of the rainfall is concentrated in storms, which can create dry spells in between the downpours. Some droughts also can be felt more acutely in some parts of the state than others.

“For example, the recent drought of 2016, which was associated with substantial impacts in southern Maine, appears as a rather modest event when viewed using a statewide index,” researchers wrote. “In contrast, the 2000-2002 drought was clearly more severe in both duration and magnitude, and affected the entire state.”

What Maine’s climate will be like going forward is not yet decided, researchers said, and will depend on how people and governments can curb their use of fossil fuels for their energy needs.

“With the right policies and economic incentives, we can reverse the trend of society’s increasing carbon intensity and avoid the looming tipping points and worst-case scenarios that await us if we continue on our current path,” the report says.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....