Hurricanes are intense tropical cyclones, formed in the atmosphere over warm ocean areas. Wind speeds reach up to 74 mph or more, blowing in a large spiral around a calm called “the eye.” They can also produce damage and destruction from heavy rainfall, high winds and flooding.
Tropical storms and hurricanes typically reach Maine between May and November every few years in the “post hurricane stage,” producing winds less than 74 mph, inland flooding, storm surges (water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm) and rip tides, threatening the State’s coastal areas. Some of the greatest rainfall amounts have occurred from weaker storms that drifted slowly or stalled over an area. The coastal areas of Cumberland and York Counties are most likely to suffer erosion from storms because they have more beach area with less high rocky coastline.
The three main conditions which favor tropical cyclone development are (1) warm ocean waters, (2) atmospheric moisture, and (3) relatively light winds aloft. Each year, an average of 10 tropical storms develop over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.
In Maine, hurricanes don't happen often but they can be devastating when they do. Previous storms that had impact on Maine are: Carol and Edna in 1954, Donna in 1960, Gloria in 1985, and Bob in 1991.
Hurricanes and storm surges are ranked on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Scale, which assigns a Hurricane Category according to the maximum speeds of the hurricane as follows:
Category 1 : Maximum Sustained Wind Speed 74-95 mph
Category 2 : Maximum Sustained Wind Speed 96-110 mph
Category 3 : Maximum Sustained Wind Speed 111-130 mph
Category 4 : Maximum Sustained Wind Speed 131-155 mph
Category 5 : Maximum Sustained Wind Speed >155 mph
Notable Hurricanes in Maine
Hurricanes Carol & Edna (August – September 1954): Maine suffered 11 deaths and $17 million in damages during a two week period. Hurricane Carol affected six counties in the southern and coastal areas, power outages, and downed trees. Hurricane Edna produced statewide flooding, power outages and a presidential disaster declaration. For archive footage of the hurricanes, click here.
Hurricane Gloria (September 1985): Affected six counties in the southern and central part of the state, multiple injuries, downed trees, and power failures for 14 days (which affected 250,000 people).
Hurricane Bob (September 1991): Also affected six counties in the southern and central part of the state. The storm resulted in 3 deaths, power outages and $5, 523, 665 in damages as well as a presidential disaster declaration.
Although Maine does not have a statewide building code that relates to hurricane preparedness, increased regulations within towns would lessen potential damage. Power outages also occur often, but utilities will activate their resources to the fullest possible extent to restore power as soon as possible.
During the summer months, the State’s population increases with tourists who, along with residents, tend to wait too long to prepare for emergencies, which can result in heavy traffic and less patience. Coastal areas are therefore most affected. County and local plans must address the evacuation and sheltering or persons from high risk areas with the help of the State Police. The Department of Transportation is responsible for the maintenance of primary highways and bridges as well as removing debris from storms.
Some hurricane preparedness considerations
- Plan where you will go and how you will get there if you have to evacuate.
- Have two evacuation routes not subject to flooding
- Know whether your home could be subject to flooding. Contact your town or county emergency management agency if you are not sure.
- Purchase flood insurance if your home could possibly flood. Homeowner's insurance does not cover floods.
- Plan for the safety of your pets. Most shelters do not accept pets.
- Purchase a NOAA Weather Alert Radio
- Talk with other family members about your plan especially if you have medical or functional needs or mobility limitations
- If you own a boat, have a hurricane plan for it
- Contact your local or county emergency management agency or American Red Cross chapter if you have questions