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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Dec. 6, 2023

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Drought likely aided storm in Maine

Weak roots, high winds bring down trees across Northeast


PORTLAND, Maine — Drought conditions, recent rainfall and an unusual storm path in Maine may have contributed to the large number of trees that toppled during a storm that walloped the Northeast this week, officials said.

The storm cut power to nearly 1.5 million homes and businesses in the region at its peak. It left more Mainers in the dark than even the infamous 1998 ice storm, but the long-term effects likely will be much different.

Because of dry conditions, the trees’ roots weren’t healthy, and ground conditions and foliage that remained on the trees made them more susceptible to wind, said Peter Rogers, acting director of the Maine Emergency Management Agency.

Nearly all of New England is either experiencing a moderate drought or abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The driest conditions are along the coast, where wind gusts were the strongest.

“It was kind of a perfect storm,” Rogers said.

Maine’s two major utilities were still reporting more than 200,000 customers without power Wednesday afternoon. But they said favorable weather and extra crews will allow them to restore power this weekend. Across the Northeast, more than 440,000 people were still without power Wednesday.

Several factors came into play: The dry fall stunted the growth of tree roots, recent soaking rain softened the soil and powerful winds came from a different direction, said William Livingston, professor of forest resources at the University of Maine.

In Maine, nor’easters create northeastern winds, and thunderstorms blow in from the west and north, he said, but these powerful winds came from the southeast and were four times the force of a common wind storm.

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