Down East 2013 ©
When Mainers dream about summer, the skies are always blue and we are basking blissfully in the sun. And there’s definitely no buzzing, biting, or swatting. So every year we are, as one writer put it, “newly horrified” by the onslaught of bugs and this summer it really has been worse than usual. The blame falls squarely on the other thing we’ve all been complaining about: the rain.
We’ve just survived the second wettest — twenty-two days with rain — and eighth coldest July in Portland over the century or so that records have been kept, according Stacie Hanes, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Gray. July’s average high of 74 was the lowest on record. (Normal would be 78.8.) And that followed the fifth-wettest June on record. Portland received 8.56 inches of rain, compared to the typical 3.28 inches.
In case you’re wondering, the wettest July came in 1915, when 10.84 inches of rain were recorded, compared to the 8.6 we got this year (normal would be 5.28 inches). That must have been a tough couple of years, because the wettest June was recorded in 1917 — 10.8 inches.
The gloom has not, however, been spread evenly across the state. At the weather service in Caribou, June and July combined were only the thirty-first wettest with 7.7 inches and twentieth coldest (average 61.8 degrees) in the seventy years since records have been kept. But that doesn’t mean it’s been a great summer weather-wise, says Mark Turner, service hydrologist at the Caribou office of the weather service.
“We weren’t seeing blue skies and sunshine,” Turner said. “It was gray.”
There were only nine of July’s thirty-one days without precipitation. And 5.08 inches of rain is still 1.19 inches – 25 percent – above normal, he said.
And things were a whole lot worse farther south. Millinocket, for example, got 15.04 inches of rain from June 1 through July 31, the second wettest June and July combined on record and the second coldest, just a fraction warmer than the record-setter in 1918.
“There’s definitely been a line south of here where the storm tracks have really been punishing people,” Turner said.
As if rain, cold and gloom weren’t bad enough, this summer Maine has been breeding bugs and blight at a depressing rate.
“Mosquitoes are definitely worse,” said Jim Dill, a pest management specialist
at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Orono. “There are just so many pools and ditches full of water for them to breed in.”
So make sure you’re not inadvertently making your personal situation worse, Dill advises. Look around your yard and empty anything holding water. At his office, for example, someone had left a five-gallon bucket outside, which was three quarters full of water and packed with mosquito larvae.
The additional wet areas probably also are boosting deer flies, horse flies etc., he said, but reported numbers vary greatly. In some places people say they’re actually seeing fewer deer flies. But in others — wow!
Deer flies wait on foliage at the edge of lines of woods until a likely meal wanders by. Since deer and moose wander along the edges of woods, Dill said, “Evidently deer flies adapted to their behavior.”
Recently Dill and a colleague met a farmer in a field in Exeter. He walked past about fifty feet of woods to reach their meeting place, and the farmer had walked a similar distance in the opposite direction. It wasn’t easy to talk with about thirty deer flies buzzing around their heads.
“About a hundred feet of wood lines had been disturbed by us and oops! The flies all along that line recognized that they could get a meal from us,” he said.
It is true, Dill said, that deer flies head for high points — such as your head or neck — so those goofy hats with bouncing ping pong balls on top or deer fly patches of sticky goo actually can provide some protection.
“Or just go out with a taller friend,” he joked, “because the deer flies will go to the higher object.”
The weather temporarily slowed down the Japanese beetles, which seem to have appeared about two weeks later than usual, he said, but now are out in “pretty good numbers.”
And the news has been filled with stories of stunted crops and about “late blight” affecting potato crops. But tomatoes from backyard gardens to farms also are being blighted. Another rain-related disease, tar spot, is peppering maple leaves with black spots. Affected leaves should be raked up, Dill said, but not composted.
We’re all grateful that August has started out drier and warmer, but there’s no guarantee that blue skies will prevail. Mark Turner at the Caribou weather service says the patterns that brought us this soggy summer may still be hanging around.
“It may not be over yet,” Turner said.