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Maine — and New England in general — have been rarely hit by hurricanes, especially compared with southern and mid-Atlantic states. Maine’s cold ocean waters — which rarely rise above 60 degrees — are simply not hospitable to hurricanes, which derive their energy from warm water, according to the National Weather Service.
The last hurricane to not only make landfall but also cause significant destruction in Maine was Hurricane Bob, which caused widespread damage and power outages across southern, central and midcoast Maine 30 years ago, between Aug. 19 and 20, 1991.
After ripping through mid-Atlantic states, Bob first made landfall in New England around 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 19 in Rhode Island. There, meteorologists clocked winds at over 105 miles per hour, causing major flooding in Newport. By 4 p.m., the storm had made it to Boston, after downing power lines and ripping roofs off homes in Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.
By 6 p.m., it had reached Portland. Earlier that day, then-Gov. John McKernan had ordered the evacuation of Mainers from Kittery to Rockland living within a quarter-mile of the coast, and had encouraged anyone living within a half-mile of the coast to seek temporary shelter inland. Shelters were set up at schools from Wells to Camden, with frightened tourists fleeing their seaside hotels and motels for safety.
The highest rainfall total was at Portland International Jetport, which recorded 8.2 inches of rain between Sunday night and Tuesday morning, and the highest winds were recorded at 92 mph in Wiscasset. Flooding was worst in the Portland area, where the Presumpscot River reached record highs and washed out several bridges. the S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook was also inundated with water, causing it to close for a week.
In total, three people in Maine were killed, in the towns of Cumberland, South Portland and Kittery — two from drowning in flood waters, and one from being electrocuted.
By the time Bob reached Hancock and Washington counties on the morning of Aug. 20, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm. Those counties were largely spared any significant damage, with peak gusts of 62 mph recorded in Machias, and a total of 2.7 inches of rain recorded in nearby Jonesport. While authorities called for people living in coastal areas to evacuate and prepare for the worst, for Down East Maine, Bob ended up being called a “bore.”
By the evening of Aug. 20, Bob had weakened significantly as it passed over Atlantic Canada, where it caused minimal damage before tracking out into the ocean on Aug. 21, and eventually dissipating off the coast of Portugal on Aug. 29.
Overall, adjusted for inflation, Hurricane Bob caused around $42 million in damage to the state — around $27 million of which was in Portland — and knocked out power to more than 150,000 people, mostly in southern Maine, between Aug. 19 and 21. In total — all across the U.S. and Canada — it caused around $1.4 billion in damage, with New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island seeing the worst of it. Nationally, 17 people were killed.
For Maine, it was a big hurricane. For most of the rest of the country, however, Bob would be considered a drop in the bucket, especially considering the devastating storms that would hit the U.S. in the years to come, like Andrew, Katrina, Sandy and Harvey.
Nevertheless, the name Bob was officially retired by the World Meteorological Organization in 1992 — and Maine hasn’t seen anything like it since.