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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » MAINE » The Other Maine
A Fast Moving Storm in Aroostook County
The Other Maine

Weathering Away

By Alex Seise | August 22, 2011

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Though you wouldn’t know it looking at the sunny images on promotional brochures, Maine is a moist place.

After a rainy day, the clouds parted just enough to let the sun creep in.   The gray clouds melted into this gorgeous, apocalyptic hue for a few minutes before suddenly paling and fading to darkness

Between the frequent rainstorms, overcast skies and abundance of waterways, the state is far from parched. The weather is temperate, if not a bit cold, though the occasional heat wave does scorch the land. When hot and cold air masses meet, storms frequently follow.

In Aroostook County, all this atmospheric turbulence makes for spectacular aerial shows and a host of weather phenomena. A perfect morning topped off with azure skies and fluffy white cumulus clouds can rapidly collapse into a dark, blustery afternoon filled with dazzling lightning and roaring thunder. This swift transformation, usually lasting no more than an hour, isn’t unique to Northern Maine.

In other areas of the country, such changes go all but unnoticed. But in rural areas where the weather dictates the success of crops, the quality of lumber and the ability of tourism facilities like campgrounds, boat rentals and restaurants to succeed, it’s watched much more diligently.

Perhaps one of the reasons that Aroostook County’s weather is so culturally pronounced is because to get just about anywhere in the region, residents must travel significant distances. This complicated tango with storm fronts, cloud cover and precipitation changes from mile to mile and requires a steady hand behind the wheel.

A cumulonimbus blossoming in the skies over Northern Maine

Temperatures fluctuate greatly; one weekend early this spring, Bangor hit 65 degrees Fahrenheit while Madawaska shivered through a cool 45º. Even Presque Isle, just a half hour south of the Saint John Valley, is in at a different climate zone than its neighbors, regularly measuring in several degrees warmer.

Like every other place in the US, there are freak weather occurrences that take place this far north. Small tornadoes and microbursts have reached down from the heavens leaving swaths of destruction in their wake. This spring and summer alone, half a dozen have been reported.

Torrential rainstorms flood basements within hours and turn dirt roads into impassible muddy corridors. 60-mile per hour winds rip across vast expanses, shaking loose roofing shingles, fence pickets and other outdoor accoutrements. And then, lest we forget during these summer months, there’s the snow.

Our first winter in the Other Maine was relatively mild. Measuring in at a grand total of 100 inches of cumulative snowfall, give or take, it wasn’t anything that we hadn’t already witnessed in New Jersey. The days where the mercury dipped below -10 degrees Fahrenheit could be counted on two hands. Were it not for the astronomically high heating oil prices, the winter would have been entirely negligible.

Between storms, the pines glisten for hours with these sparkly drops.   They take longer to dry out than the other trees' leaves, which is why they're so remarkable

But that wasn’t the case in 2008 when record snowfall amounts of 200 inches fell across the region. Drifts dwarfed homes and left residents trapped in a snowy labyrinth for weeks. Coupled with strong spring rains, nature’s fury took hold as the Saint John River flooded its banks, forcing residents from their homes and pouring vast amounts of water along a large portion of the downtown area.

In Caribou, the National Weather Service maintains a center to track atmospheric conditions. The center, located just a mile or two from the traffic circle connecting Route 1, Cary Medical Center and Main Street, is perched next to the regional airport and looks like an elaborate playground. But the various instruments, carefully calibrated and far too delicate to be ordinary playthings, connect the 72,000 people of all of Aroostook County with the weather reports they need to thrive and, more frequently than elsewhere, survive.

Though some would call such harsh weather patterns a deterrent, David and I have taken quite a liking to them. Last week, we watched from our dining room as the skies turned a turbulent shade of gray and the wind started to roar across the river. The hanging geraniums on the front porch swayed precariously as the potted plants on the deck toppled over, spilling a soil onto the planks. Torrents of rain poured down from above, soaking the ground and turning the gutters into miniature whitewater gushers. Brilliant flashes of lightning illuminated the skies over Edmundston, silhouetting the ominous clouds above. And yet, despite the tempest outside, we peacefully looked out on the carnage from inside our home, soaking up nature’s fury from a safe haven.

It’s one of the many things we’ve learned from living here in the Other Maine: you can’t change the weather. Ergo, you’d might as well sit back and enjoy the ride, as blustery and wet and wild as it may be.

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