Scientists See A Hotter, Wetter, Less Snowy Future For Maine

Sep 16, 2019

All this week, Maine Public - and more than 250 other news outlets all around the world - are reporting stories on climate change as part of the  "Covering Climate Now" project. In Maine, scientists say that climate change means hot summers, warm winters, more rain, and less snow, along with a warming gulf of Maine, and that will affect the state's fisheries, its  economy and traditional ways of life.

Professor Ivan Fernandez of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine is one of the authors of the report, "Maine's Climate Future."  He told Maine Public's Nora Flaherty that since the findings came out out in 2015, there have been many big changes in the state and globally, including an acceleration in the pace of change. 

FERNANDEZ: What we've seen in the last five years is, obviously, a continuation - most of the time, evidence of an acceleration of many of the trends for climate change. We've also, obviously, lived through a few years where we have hurricanes and fires, and where we’re witnessing the loss of communities and island nations due to these sorts of climate related disasters. And so the I think the public awareness and the mounting evidence of these extreme events has picked up the pace in the last few years.

FLAHERTY: And what has changed here in Maine? 

The warm season has gotten longer by a couple of weeks. And it is anticipated to continue to get longer by a couple of weeks. We have higher frequency of high heat-index days that are a combination of humidity and temperature that affects human health.

We continue to see less snow - we've lost about 7 percent over the last century, we reported in the 2015 report, with more to come. Dramatic loss of snow is expected by 2050 along the coastal division, which is already warmer. I think we Mainers know that we get less snow on the coast, and we're going to get a lot less snow on the coast going forward because it's already closer to 32 degrees. But, likewise, we're going to lose snowpack throughout the state, and certainly in the western part of the state where winter recreation, etcetera, is important. Those losses are important to the future of those industries.

Ocean temperature is warming, and you would have to have not read any media in Maine for the last few years to not have learned that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than most of the planet, which is having pretty profound effects on fisheries, and certainly coastal communities. Sea level rise as well - Maine's got a lot of coast – 3,500 miles, 5,000 if you count the islands. Pretty dramatic changes we see in those coastal communities in terms of how we live in this state.

What will this mean in terms of quality of life and the economy?

I came to Maine almost 40 years ago and I never thought about a tick. And I think everyone in Maine recognizes now that we have a challenge to interact in the outdoors the way we used to, given Lyme disease and the migration of Lyme disease and tick- borne diseases. we've got warming and heat stress, the length of the pollen season, the intensity of the pollen season. Allergenicity - in other words, how bad we react to the pollen -all are increasing with a changing climate. Coastal fisheries - lobsters is dominant in our fisheries from an economic standpoint, and the center of lobster populations have migrated north with warming ocean waters, and is anticipated to continue to do so. Coastal communities have particular challenges - they are dealing with the same sorts of human health infrastructure, handling stormwater drain runoff in their roads, and sewer overflows on systems that can't handle the intense rain events that we seem to have more of these days, as well as dealing on the coast with rising seas.  

We will be talking later in the week with Gov. Janet Mills about the Maine Climate Council that she's established and about the state's efforts to address climate change. But as a scientist who studies climate, for you, what are the major obstacles in dealing with this?

I think the two challenges that come to mind are the inefficiency of not using science to inform decision making, so that we all can get on the same page and move forward. And, of course, resources - money. And even though it's cost effective, we have to not spend it where it's probably not doing us much good and spend it where we identify as a high priority. And we don't do that as well as we need to. 

This interview is part of a week-long reporting project “Covering Climate Now,” by Maine Public and more than 300 other news outlets around the world. The series comes in advance of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday Sept. 23 in New York. More information is at MainePublic.org/climatenow.