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

CARIBOU, Maine — This June was likely the hottest one on record in Aroostook County and other parts of the state, based on preliminary data from the National Weather Service in Caribou.

The Maine Drought Task Force, a joint effort between Maine Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Geological Survey, released a report about current conditions following its meeting on June 30. The task force monitors Maine’s drought conditions through stations set up around the state, and with low rainfall in May and June and higher than normal temperatures, parts of the state already are in early drought conditions.

The numbers are still preliminary, but NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Louise Fode said it was in all likelihood a record-breaking June.

In Caribou, temperatures maxed out in the low 90s early on and then climbed back up to the mid-80s in June’s waning days. And while temperatures have now receded to milder levels, the NWS is predicting 2021 will continue to bring the heat.

“We are expecting a little bit of a break over the next few days, [but] it looks like later on next week it might start to get warm again,” Fode said. “For the summer, the climate prediction outlook does have us at above average temperatures.”

Across the state, the effects of a warm season are taking hold. Alongside Caribou, Portland also posted a hotter-than-ever June. The task force found that the Maine CDC’s Drinking Water Program has been responding to requests for assistance across the state — especially in southern and coastal Maine where temperatures have been even higher. Six dry wells have been reported thus far.

While kids and families flock to lakes and pools to beat the heat, the hot, dry weather continues to affect potato farms — one of Maine’s heritage industries.

Dominic LaJoie, president of the National Potato Council, said that the weather this year is a continuation of a drought that’s been testing potato farmers in the state for five years. Not only that, but if the area starts seeing longer bouts of hot weather — temperatures at 85 across a week or more — that could do long-term damage to crops.

About 30 percent of farms are now irrigated in Maine, LaJoie said, and that number will continue to rise steadily in the next decade as climate change alters the growing season. For now, the heavy thunder showers that tore through Aroostook County in June outpaced what LaJoie has seen in recent years and were a welcome gift to long-dry soil.

“We want every drop of water we can get these days because it doesn’t come as often as it used to — but it still comes eventually,” LaJoie said. “We’ve learned to adapt and farm with the weather we’ve been getting.”

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Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.