A large cloud of dust appears behind a potato harvester as it gathers the crops to send to the potato house in September 2020. Credit: Alexander MacDougall / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Summer has yet to arrive in Maine, but half the state is already experiencing abnormally dry conditions, triggering the activation of a drought task force by the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the US Geological Survey.

The activation of the task force comes after observations from the U.S. Drought Monitor of abnormally dry conditions that are affecting land areas in 15 of the 16 counties and 55 percent of the state overall. The dry areas are classified as a D0, or “abnormally dry,” one step below a D1, or “moderate drought.”

“Weekly communication has begun between MEMA, USGS, National Weather Service, Maine Drinking Water Program and other drought monitoring partners to compile a weekly email update on the status of Maine’s drought,” Samuel Roy, a natural hazards planner for MEMA, said. “Task Force members are closely monitoring the drought situation across the state.”

Maine experienced areas of severe drought last summer, particularly in Aroostook County. Last year’s drought, which lasted into the fall months, had a negative impact on The County’s potato production, making farmers eligible to apply for federal emergency aid.

While Aroostook remains the one county unaffected by the current dry spell, some of its main rivers are experiencing much lower than usual streamflow for this time of year. Measurements of streamflow on Thursday, April 22, by the USGS show sections of the Aroostook and St. John rivers ranking in the bottom 10th percentile for this date since records were kept for those sections — some of which stretch back more than a century.

Although MEMA acknowledged the lower than usual streamflows in its announcement about activating the drought task force, it also noted that recent rainfall has increased streamflows in the western and southern parts of the state.

Should drought conditions persist and worsen throughout the coming months, virtual meetings will need to be held in order to address the conditions, Maine Emergency Management said.