Drought

A drought is a prolonged period without rain, specifically a twelve month period during which precipitation is less than 85% of normal as defines by the National Weather Service; 44 inches is the average precipitation level per year in Maine.

Although Maine is considered a “wet” state, drought conditions can occur about every decade. During late summer to early fall, these conditions can also lead to a very high forest fire threat. Go to the Wildfires section to learn more about fire threats and occurrences in Maine.

Drought is the number one risk factor for the State’s agricultural economy, as it is the basis of over 1.2 billion dollars of food and fiber products annually. It employs 22,000 workers across the state, preserves a lifestyle for over 5,500 Maine families and provides stewardship of over 1.5 million acre of land and wildlife habitat. Since approximately 45% of the state’s population relies on dug or shallow wells, a prolonged drought period increases the risk of dry wells also. About 55% of the population relies on the public water system, which can also be affected.

Since Maine is 90% forested, drought years tend to affect the whole state. Some of the most severe droughts happened in the late 1940s, mid-1960s and more recently during the 2001-2003 period. The U.S. Geological Survey has identified the following drought periods in Maine:

  • 1938-43
  • 1947-50
  • 1955-57
  • 1963-69
  • 1984-88
  • 2000-2003

The Palmer Drought Index is used for activating the Drought Emergency Plan. The Drought Severity Index (Palmer 1965) was developed to measure the departure of the moisture supply at specific locations. The objective of the Palmer Drought Index is to provide measurements of moisture conditions that were standardized so that comparisons using the index could be made between locations and between months. For additional information on drought see the National Integrated Drought Information System webpage.

Notable Droughts in Maine

  • 2000-2003: According to a recent study by the Department and the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Maine farmers lost over $32 million dollars because of the drought, causing to be the most damaging drought to date. Aroostook and Washington Counties were the hardest hit.

Mitigation

Early identification of drought threats is important in order to educate the public in conservation measures and minimize damage. The Soil and Water Conservation Commission, together with other Department of Agriculture divisions, the Department of Conservation, and the Department of Environmental Protection, have programs, regulations, policies, and educational materials to assist in minimizing this hazard.