Jackie Young waters petunias Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 2023, at Young's Greenhouse in South Paris, Maine. The official opening day for the season is April 22 with their annual spring event and scavenger hunt. Credit: Russ Dillingham / Sun Journal via AP

Unseasonably warm temperatures may have caught some Mainers off guard last week, but scientists are tentatively predicting that weather conditions will actually be favorable this spring.

Compared with last year, Mainers can expect cooler temperatures and increased precipitation going into the growing season.

“Because the climate is wetter this year, it can be projected that our temperatures may be more moderate,” said Sarah Jamison, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s forecast office in Gray. “The groundwater recharge was quite beneficial this year, and our stream flows are near to above normal.”

Over the past three years, Maine has seen significant periods of drought, which has hurt some key crops, such as wild blueberries and hay. Overall, the state’s climate is warming with increasingly warmer conditions in more populated, southern and coastal parts of the state.

State data show that 2023 had the second warmest winter on record, with 2016 being the hottest recorded year.

climate change and garden management

While this winter was the second warmest recorded, “fortunately we received high precipitation events, too,” said Sean Birkel, the Maine state climatologist. “There was a decent snowpack heading into March with a fairly normal onset of spring melt, which recharged the groundwater.”

But he cautioned that while the current weather conditions and sustained rainfall are “tentatively” favorable for the growing season, the conditions could vary in the coming weeks.

Last year, eight of 16 counties experienced severe drought. Nine counties experienced abnormally dry conditions, and 11 counties were in moderate drought. These severe conditions led to a 60 percent loss of yield for wild blueberry farms in Washington County, according to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Groundwater levels were at a 30-year low for the month of August in Windham, Lewiston, Auburn and Oxford Hills, according to Nicholas Stasulis, the co-chair of Maine’s Drought Task Force and Maine field office chief for the U.S. Geological Survey’s New England Water Science Center.

When Maine receives less snow and less sustained rainfall, it has less groundwater in the summertime, but that is not the case this year.

climate change and shifting seasons

The lack of snow last year led to drier conditions, but this year Maine received a late season snowpack allowing for wetter, more favorable conditions for crops, Jamison said.

For now, Mainers can continue to expect cooler, spring-like temperatures for the rest of the month, Jamison said.

Sustained rainfall can help alleviate the severe effects of drought, while quick rainstorms are not as beneficial and can turn into runoff. The steady rainfall this week will also help create favorable growing conditions, she said.

“We are now in what I call true spring, and we’re looking at more seasonable temperatures,” Jamison said.

People who want to keep track of heat conditions can check the Drought Monitor’s updates. It is updated once a week, every Thursday.

Mehr Sher is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for this reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.

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Mehr Sher

Mehr Sher reports on the Maine environment. She is a Report for America corps member. Additional support for her reporting is provided by the Unity Foundation and donations by BDN readers.