Maine, nicknamed the Pine Tree State, is the easternmost point in the United States. The state is very rural and only has one area code (shocker, I know!) While most of the population lives along the coast or the southern part of the state, nearly 9,000 people live in unorganized territories with no local government.
Mainers are known for their generosity and having a deep sense of community. It is said that if locals trace their family history far enough back, many will discover they’re related.
Maine’s geographic neighbors have contributed to the state’s cultural diversity. The northern part of the state mimics the French Canadian (or South Quebecer) culture, while the southern region resembles the Bostonian culture. Listening to a South Mainer speak is like hearing an intense version of a Boston accent.
Maine has five, not four, drastic seasonal changes. Apart from the traditional spring, summer, fall, and winter, there’s also mud season! While snow sports are a way of life for Mainers, the effects of disasters and extreme weather are readily felt.
There are several natural events that affect the Pine Tree State but the resiliency of the people is what helps them to overcome what they’re faced with.
What natural disasters does Maine have?
Maine’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, floods, winter storms, hurricanes, landslides, power outages, and droughts. Other less significant natural hazards include extreme heat, wildfires, earthquakes, and tornadoes.
Between 1953 and 2019, Maine declared 57 major disasters, of which severe storms and floods happened the most according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
1. Severe Storms
Storms are known for producing violent weather, such as heavy rain, lightning, gusty winds, and hail.
Summertime presents a peak of strong winds across the mid-coast and lower eastern portion of the state. These sea breeze winds are fierce enough to break trees, damage power lines, and interfere with communication lines.
The size of hail can get up to 3" or larger with the largest reported hail stone measuring 4.0”.
Maine averages 60,000 cloud-to-lightning strikes per year and ranks 16th among all US states when it comes to lightning deaths per capita. Each lightning bolt reaches approximately 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit and poses a danger to life, either by death or by permanent neurological damage.
Outside is not a safe place to be when there is a thunderstorm occurring. Many storms come and go within an hour or less, so when thunder roars, be sure to go indoors.
Once the storm passes, you can resume outdoor activities. Our severe thunderstorm guide has important safety and preparedness tips. Check it out here!
Maine boasts 3,500 miles of coastline, 5 major rivers, 6,000 lakes and ponds, and 5,000 brooks and streams.
The Pine Tree State receives approximately 42.6 inches of annual precipitation, which puts over 130,000 people at an elevated risk of inland flooding and 7,000 people at risk of coastal flooding.
Urban, coastal, and flash floods can occur during any time of year but are most common during the spring because of the combination of intense or prolonged rainfall, and rapid snowmelt. Other contributing factors include ice jams, river overflow, ground and soil saturation, and erosion.
One of the worst floods in the state’s history was the Great Flood of 1987 which began in March and lasted until April of the same year. Two warm spring rainstorms (one in March and one in April) contributed to rapid snowmelt and led to heavy flooding throughout the northeastern coast.
These events devastated the communities that had established themselves near the rivers. Of Maine’s 16 counties, only 2 were not declared disaster areas. The crest levels reached at the Penobscot and Kennebec River basins were the highest to date.
The damage included over 2,100 flooded homes, of which 215 were destroyed and 240 sustained major damage. Moreover, 400 small businesses were impacted, roads and bridges were damaged or completely destroyed, and the popular historic site (Fort Halifax) in Winslow was washed away.
Flood events leave a series of lingering effects, such as damage to or the complete loss of life, property, communication systems, transportation, crops, livestock, mold, long-term health issues, and an interruption to local businesses.
3. Winter Storms
Maine is almost synonymous with frigid temperatures. It’s no surprise, based on its location, that the entire state is vulnerable to extreme winter weather conditions, such as blizzards, ice storms, freezing rain, sleet storms, snowstorms, heavy snowfall, and nor’easters.
The winter season in Maine goes from late October (in the north) or November (the rest of the state) into April and sometimes May. The total seasonal snowfall is 50 to 80 inches along the coast, 60 to 90 inches in the south, and 90 to 110 or more inches in the north.
Clayton Lake holds the record for the coldest temperature at -50°F on January 16, 2009. Brr!
Maine's deadliest natural disaster was the Ice Storm of 1998 in which 8 people were killed.
The worst nor’easter in the Pine Tree State’s history occurred between April 14 and 18 of 2007. The storm measured 800 miles across and reached from the Carolinas into Canada.
The aftermath included flooded homes and businesses, as well as treacherous travel conditions. Snowfalls amounted to nearly 2 feet of snow and wind gusts reached up to 70 mph on the coast at Matinicus Rock.
One of the worst winter storms in recent years was known as the February 2013 Blizzard. In the long 36 hours between February 8 and 9, Maine got buried in heavy snow— Gotham reported the most amount of snow at 35.5 inches.
The storm also brought with it powerful wind gusts of up to 77 mph, which caused monstrous snowdrifts. Not only were clean-up efforts nearly impossible, but even attempting to open the door to leave the house was extremely challenging.
As a result, tens of thousands of people lost electricity for several hours and transportation was restricted— flights, buses, and trains canceled operations. On the plus side, the skiers were happy!
Wintertime can be rough in the northeast corner of New England. It’s imperative that you become prepared to survive storms like the ones we just mentioned.
During a severe winter storm, the safest place to go would probably be your home. Have the means to stay warm, hydrated, and fed should there be an extreme event that disrupts the electrical grid and causes a long-term power outage.
4. Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Hurricanes do not hit the upper East Coast too often, but when they do, they have the potential to cause major devastation as a result of strong winds, heavy precipitation, and storm surges.
A few tropical storms and hurricanes have made landfall in Maine, such as:
- On October 4, 1869, Saxby Gale struck Maine as a Category 2 storm. It caused high winds, intense rainfall, widespread flooding, high storm tide, and resulted in the destruction of 90 homes.
- In September 1969, Hurricane Gerda made landfall as a category 2 storm and was the strongest to ever hit the state. It brought heavy rainfall, strong winds of up to 125 mph, storm surge, and caused some damage to trees, power lines, and roads. Thankfully, no fatalities were reported.
- On September 14, 1971, Tropical Storm Heidi made landfall in Maine on but it did not cause severe damage or fatalities.
One of the worst hurricanes to affect Maine was Hurricane Bob in September 1991. Six counties in the state were hit the hardest and a presidential disaster was declared. The hurricane caused 3 deaths and over $5 million (1991 USD) in damages.
Hurricanes are oftentimes forecasted a few days in advance. The gap of time before it makes landfall can give us great insight into the strength of the storm as well as whether or not it’s safe to shelter-in-place or if it’s best to evacuate.
Having a plan for both scenarios is crucial. But planning is something you should do long before a hurricane occurs. In this guide, you can read about steps you can take now to mitigate future damage, and safety tips to consider before, during, and after the storm.
Maine has an incredible topography which includes fourteen 4,000-ft mountains, 4 mountain ranges, and 281.4 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Its highest mountain is Mount Katahdin at 5,269 feet.
Due to its mountainous terrain, landslides can occur statewide but they’re most common in river corridor areas and coastal bluff. It’s also common for them to occur in areas with Presumpscot Formation. This type of sensitive clay can deform relatively easily.
Landslides can occur any time of year but they happen the most during the spring and early summer months because of the combination of spring rains and snowmelt.
One of the most notorious landslides occurred on August 14, 2004, after Tropical Storm Bonnie brought in heavy localized rain. Roads in eastern Maine were flooded and washed out. A mudslide in Aroostook County washed away half of a road and narrowed it down to one lane.
While landslides are not Maine’s largest natural threat, it’s important to be aware of the susceptibility of your property, especially if you live on the coast or near a river or stream.
6. Power Outages
Our electrical systems are highly vulnerable, but power outages are primarily caused by bad weather.
One of the worst power outages in Maine occurred between October 28 and 31, 2017 during the North American Storm Complex which absorbed the remnants of Tropical Storm Philippe. Hurricane-force winds with gusts up to 93 mph and heavy rainfall took a toll on the power lines.
Over 1.4 million people were affected during a 10-day period— 470,000 of those people were in Maine. This became the highest number of power outages in Central Maine Power’s history. The cost associated with this event was estimated at $69 million (2017 USD).
It doesn’t take much for a power outage to occur, so it shouldn’t be left as a last-minute option to have a plan. While it’s typically not too difficult to live without electricity for an hour or two, it becomes increasingly difficult when it turns into a long-term ordeal. Not to mention, other likely existing factors, such as extreme heat, flooding, etc.
7. Drought and Extreme Heat
Currently, Maine experiences 10 days of extreme heat per year. Some sources suggest that by 2050, that number will quadruple. Over 30,000 people living in the Pine Tree State are vulnerable to extreme heat.
Drought is also a concern. As of the writing of this article, 26.9% of the state is under a D1 drought intensity (moderate) and 38.5% of the state is under D0 drought intensity (abnormally dry). The longest duration of drought (D1-D4) in Maine lasted 110 weeks beginning on June 19, 2001 and ending on July 22, 2003.
Heat-related illness can be prevented, so long that you know the symptoms to look out for and are able to get help before it’s too late. In our heat wave preparedness guide, we identify some key tips on how to stay safe during periods of extreme heat.
As a side note, it’s important to remember that droughts can exasperate the intensity of wildfires. Conserve water during such times is critical.
Maine has 17.5 million acres of woodlands, but luckily, it has a low risk of wildfires. On average, there are 545 wildfires per year that burn less than 1,000 acres.
The main cause of fires is linked to human activity, such as bonfires or burning debris that has gone out of control and arson.
When it’s caused by nature, it’s generally due to lightning and fueled by seasonally dry and arid conditions (or prolonged periods of drought) which increases the potency of the fire.
The largest fire in the state occurred in October 1947 and was known as the Year Maine Burned. When all was said and done, the fire had consumed over 250,000 acres of forestland, wiped out 9 towns completely, destroyed 851 homes and 397 seasonal cottages, left 2,500 people homeless, and 5 people dead.
Drought and lack of precipitation are what led to Maine’s high risk of inflammability.
Preventing wildfires begins with us. If you’re burning debris, never leave the flame unattended and always have several means of controlling it. During periods of exceptional drought, avoid making fires altogether until conditions are safe for you to do so.
To prevent a fire from destroying your property, store flammable objects at a safe distance from your home. Learn wildfire mitigation strategies and safety tips here.
Small earthquakes are common in Maine. In a typical year, Maine has several small earthquakes, most of which are too small to feel but a few of which may be felt locally.
On the other hand, larger earthquakes have been few and far between and have a very small chance of occurring in any given year. There is a 2% chance of a magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Maine in the next 50 years.
Scientists don't fully understand the source of the underground forces that cause earthquakes in eastern North America because there is no active fault line in Maine. The earthquakes in Maine are not related to any known "fault lines,” at least nothing that is visible at the ground surface.
Earthquakes are unpredictable and scary. Since there’s no warning system to let us know that one is coming, you should practice earthquake safety now. Some ideas are knowing where to take cover until the shaking stops, as well as how to inspect your home for possible property damage.
In this guide, we highlight important mitigation strategies to take before an earthquake occurs, as well as recommendations for items to include in your emergency kit.
At the end of the guide, you can print a safety checklist and keep it with the rest of your emergency supplies for future use.
The Pine Tree State averages 2 tornadoes each year, the majority of which happen during the summer months. The most common areas for them to occur are the southwestern and central sections of the state.
Due to the state’s sparse population, the damage has been insignificant and personal injury has not been reported as a direct result.
Natural disaster resources for Maine
Maine is vulnerable to several different types of natural disasters, so we encourage you to take advantage of the following resources to help you become prepared before they occur.
- In order to stay up to date with the weather, we advise you to download the National Weather Service app.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - NOAA Weather Radio is free. It will send you real-time notifications about weather-related disasters.
- Disaster preparedness is like opening a big can of worms…it can be difficult to know where to begin! We want to make the process as easy as possible for you, so we’ve created unique guides based on each disaster type.
Learn how to mitigate potential damage, how to stay safe, and which items should be included in your emergency kits. Most importantly, download the free checklists at the end. When a disaster occurs, you can look at the list for reference. Find all of our disaster guides here.
- Becoming prepared for an emergency can feel overwhelming for some people but you don’t have to do it alone. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a government organization that helps build resilient communities by providing free in-person training.
These trainings are taught by local officials. FEMA also provides free courses online.
If you’re interested, you can find your local CERT group here.
- When a disaster occurs, an assessment is made about the immediate needs of the community members that were affected.
Maine’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) works with first responders, local businesses, and registered organizations to see if they’re able to help bridge the gap to meet those needs, whether it be bottled water, manpower, or anything of that sort. If you want to help nearby communities after an emergency situation, consider checking out Maine’s VOAD.
Another organization worth mentioning is the American Red Cross. They provide safe places for evacuees to go, as well as food, and supplies in the event of an emergency or major disaster.
- Check out the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) for more information on disaster assistance as it pertains to your state and community specifically.
I hope you liked reading about natural disasters in Maine.
We created an in-depth resource with guides, templates, and checklists that will allow you to customize your emergency plan according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!
Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!
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