RJ Heller writes that weather swings are taking a toll on traditional Maine life.
Waves wash over the Spring Point Ledge Light as the Peaks Island ferry makes its way across Portland Harbor during a winter storm on Friday, Dec. 23, 2022. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

With the storm just before Christmas now behind us, I and many others living Down East were reminded that Maine’s weather can be ferocious and unpredictable.

It also reminded me of a special family event six summers ago. More on that in a moment.

Weather is always a topic of conversation here in Maine. As the world discusses climate change and rising sea levels, we are left to ponder when the fog might lift or when spring might show up. Will it be April or June this year? Perhaps this is the year spring will take a breather and we roll right into summer.

Having lived here since 2015, the weather forecast is something my wife and I sort of take with a grain of salt, good humor and abandoned curiosity. We find ourselves looking at the forecast, but never really believing it until the day arrives and we are in a snowstorm or cyclonic wind event here along the Gulf of Maine.

Chances are we will never figure it out. But I can personally attest to how fishermen are almost always correct when predicting what the weather is going to do. It is an uncanny gift of fortune-telling coming from those who live and work on the water.

Where we used to live in Pennsylvania, the major weather events centered primarily on thunderstorms and snowstorms, and often were fairly predictable. Our community was protected by the ridgeline of the Blue Mountains. Plans could easily be made, sometimes a week or so in advance, with no worry of the weather producing any surprises.

Here, Down East, there is that large body of water to the east which, when combined with other weather-related triggers, creates havoc when trying to determine what the weather will do.

In Gregory Zielinski’s 2016 book, “Conditions May Vary: A Guide to Maine Weather,” he offers many reasons for the varied forecasts coming from an ever-growing number of weather authorities, news stations and weather related apps.

“The weather of Maine is dynamic and can be so unpredictable that Mainers can easily be said to have adopted it as an icon for their lifestyle,” he writes. Zielinski goes on to point out the main reason for all of the weather uncertainty is centered squarely on the Gulf of Maine.

In the summer of 2017, weather became a very important subject of conversation for our family. It was not because of any approaching storm or the temperature of the water outside our window. It was because of a wedding.  

Our daughter was married that June on the lawn of the historic Ames Cottage in Bucks Harbor, which is an idyllic and beautiful working harbor filled with a fleet of fishing boats.

Our daughter now lives and teaches in Nashville. Prior to moving there, she attended the University of Maine at Machias and graduated with a degree in education. It was during her time there that she developed her love and appreciation for the Down East landscape and culture, which, in her words, are now buried deep in her soul. It was an easy decision on where she wanted to have the ceremony.

A week before the wedding, there was much to be done. Along with all of the preparations being made for the big event, a vast amount of time was spent channel surfing and searching online in a feeble attempt to understand what the weather was going to do that day. The time and energy spent tracking the weather was relentless, unforgiving and numbing — and pointless.

On the morning of the wedding, I stood outside the cottage looking toward the harbor. I knew there were boats out there, though I could not see them. In front of me was a solid grey wall of fog, dripping wet with a saturating and steady rainfall. The day, from this vantage point, was going to be wet and unpleasant.

As the hours passed the rain continued, the fog thicker still, and I remember saying to myself, “Well, this is not going to be good.” But I kept hope tucked away because of what my fishermen friends had been telling me: “Not to worry, the weather will be great and the day will be perfect.”

Summarizing his thoughts about Maine weather, Zielinski opted for a quote by a t-shirt design done by the Vermont artist, Dug Nap. It gives the Maine weather report as “hot & sunny, turning to sleet mid-morning, becoming a blizzard by noon, 6-42 inches, followed by warm, moist, tropical air which will probably bring severe thunderstorms & a flood watch.”

After seven years of living life Down East, I could not agree more. The weather here is tough for anyone to predict.

And what became of that day in June when I walked our daughter down the aisle? The weather, in all its ever-changing, unpredictable and frustrating nature, did not disappoint. The rain stopped, the fog lifted, and everyone saw the boats as the sun came out to dry and brighten the day. My fishermen friends were all correct in their forecast for great weather and a perfect day.

Which, in the end, it was.

RJ Heller, Down East contributor

RJ Heller is a journalist, essayist, photographer, author, an avid reader and an award-winning book critic who enjoys sailing, hiking and many other outdoor pursuits. He lives in Starboard Cove.