Blizzards, floods and hurricanes are occasional weather events, but often sudden and severe in Maine. This is a chronicle of some of the most significant events.
November 26, 1898 was the first day of the two-day Portland Gale, a hurricane and blizzard that raged for over thirty-six hours sinking about one hundred vessels including the steamer Portland “somewhere off Cape Cod.” The shipwreck took 192 lives and, according to a 2002 report of the discovery of the wreck, it sank between Cap Cod and Cape Ann.
Maine was hit by a substantial number of blizzards in the twentieth century. Two, closely timed, were reported by the Brunswick Times-Record:
One blizzard on Dec. 28-29, 1922 buried everything for miles and miles in drifts eight feet high or more. In some locations, on roads with open fields without snow fences, trees or shrubs, the snow drifted to 20 feet deep.
A second blizzard, on Jan. 12, 1923, was one of the worst for the season with gale force winds of 25 to 35 mph. . . .
. . . weather conditions were unusually severe during the first two weeks of January resulting in the area receiving a total snowfall of 70 inches for the season to mid-January.1
Among the worst were the following: (from the Maine Sunday Telegram, November 6, 2006)
|February 25-27, 1934||A 68 hour storm left 22.7 inches of snow on Portland, with temperatures between 7 and 16 degrees. Much of Portland Harbor was frozen.|
|January 23-24, 1935||In two days 23.3 inches of new snow covered Portland, with 8 to 12 degree temperatures and wind gusts of 35 miles per hour.|
|December 27-28, 1946||In 0 to 12 degree weather, and 35 mile-per-hour gusts, 21 inches of snow fell on Portland.|
|February 17-18, 1952||Known as “The Great Blizzard” at the time and later, it dumped 25.3 inches of snow on Portland, and 3 feet in northern Maine. Winds gusted to 65 mph.|
|February 9-10, 1969||This two-day affair added 21.5 inches of white stuff in Portland on winds gusting to 54 mph.|
|December 17-18, 1970||Almost 23 inches dropped on Portland over two days.|
|February 6-7, 1978||Although snow fall in southern Maine ranged from 8 to over 12 inches, wind gusts of over 100 miles per house made this storm appear to be a white hurricane.|
|January 17-18, 1979||A record 27.1 inches fell on Portland with 46 mph wind gusts. A 24-hour record of 24.1 inches was recorded.|
While rainfall in Maine is generally distributed evenly throughout the year (about 3-4 inches a month on average), a review of Maine’s most damaging floods shows that most major floods occur in late winter and early spring – February through May, and sometmes June.
For example, after several days of intense rain, on June 19, 1814 floods swept away bridges and other structures in Kennebunk, Fryeburg, Brownfield, and along the Androscoggin River in Brunswick and Topsham.
An exception were the floods of the “Great Freshet of October 1785,” which swept away almost all the mills and bridges in Berwick and Kennebunk.
|Date||Area affected||Damage estimate|
|March 19, 1936||South-central Maine||$25,000,000|
|March 27-30, 1953||Southwestern Maine||-no data-|
|May 28, 1961||Eastern Maine||$1,000,000|
|April 30, 1979||Northern Maine (St. John River Basin)||$650,000|
|April 1, 1987||Central and South-central Maine||$100,000,000|
|April 10-12, 1991||Northern Maine (St. John River Basin)||$14,400,000|
|October 20-22, 1996||Southwestern Maine||$6,450,000*|
|Sources: USGS Water Supply Paper 2375; Maine Emergency Management Agency *estimate|
The occurrence of most major floods in the late winter and early spring is due to a combination of factors: abundant rainfall generated by warm frontal systems pushing north into the state, frozen ground that can absorb little or no rainfall, rivers nearly full to their banks due to snowmelt, and the possibility of significant snowpack that may add to runoff. Floods during this time of year usually do not develop as quickly as summertime flash floods, but last longer and typically affect larger areas. When flooding occurs, it may be accompanied by ice jams, often with disastrous results. Ice jams on the Kennebec River produced some of the worst damage in the 1936 flooding, and an ice jam on the St. John River near Allagash in 1991 destroyed two bridges. Source: Maine Department of Conservation, Maine Geologic Survey.
|August, 1635||Probable category 3. The first major storm for North American settlers in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies.|
|October 19,1775||Benedict Arnold expedition to attack Quebec is hit by a hurricane for three days with floods of rain making the marchers miserable.|
|November 26, 1898||First day of the two-day Portland Gale, a hurricane and blizzard.|
|March 12, 1888||The Blizzard of 1888, or “Great White Hurricane” as it was called, paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine.|
|September 15, 1944||Great Atlantic Hurricane, a category 2 in Maine.|
|September 21, 1938||New England Hurricane causes $135,000 in damage in Maine.|
|September 7, 1953||Hurricane Carol causes minor wind damage in the Eastport area.|
|August 31, 1954||Hurricane Carol produces flooding rainfall; winds of 69 mph in Portland; Maine damage in the millions.|
|September 11, 1954||Hurricane Edna is the second devastating hurricane in eleven days. Maine apple crops destroyed; damage in the millions.|
|September 12, 1960||Hurricane Donna causes damage in Maine again in the millions with many uprooted trees and pleasure craft sunk along the coast.|
|October 29, 1963||Hurricane Ginny with gusts to 100 mph in Rockland. This snow hurricane causes snowfall of 6 to 18 inches in western Mountains.|
|August 19, 1991||Hurricane Bob features gusts of 61 mph in Portland, 3 deaths, and many locations experience long-duration power-outages.|
For an “on the ground” view of hurricanes Carol and Edna in Portland, view this amateur film from the archives of Northeast Historic Film.
Source: A NEW ENGLAND TROPICAL CYCLONE CLIMATOLOGY 1938-2004: DIRECT HITS AND NEAR MISSES II…UPDATED. Marc P. Mailhot, EMA Storm Coordination Center, Westbrook, Me. Internet site http://home.maine.rr.com/mailhot/netrop.html (accessed November 26, 2006)
1 “A Century of Photos.” Supplement to the Times Record, January 31, 2014.