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Maine scientists predict more 'nuisance' flooding, longer growing seasons due to climate change

Gayle Bowness, of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, in Portland on Jan. 24, 2023. She says high tides are increasingly causing "sunny day flooding" along Maine's coast.
Murray Carpenter
Maine Public
Gayle Bowness, of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, in Portland on Jan. 24, 2023. She says high tides are increasingly causing "sunny day flooding" along Maine's coast.

Flooding days due to high tides and sea level rise, often called "nuisance flooding," are expected to more than triple over the next decade in Maine.

The projection was just one of many that scientists, researchers and agricultural specialists presented Thursday to members of the Maine Climate Council.

Since 1912, Maine experienced an average of four days of flooding each year. But since 2010, Maine is seeing about 12 days of flooding per year.

"The lunar nodal cycle will amplify the tides," Peter Slovinsky, a marine geologist for the Maine Geological Survey, said during Thursday's meeting. "They will become higher, such that by the mid-2035s, we could see about 42 flood days per year."

Storms and heavy precipitation can also intensify flooding. Scientists say that precipitation is increasing, and heavy precipitation days with two inches of rain or more are becoming more frequent. State Climatologist Sean Birkel projected that annual precipitation rates are expected to increase by 5-to-14% in Maine by the end of the century.

More frequent, heavy rain will make life unpredictable for Maine farmers, but scientists also predict that climate change will lengthen the growing season in the state.

In northern Maine, the average growing season may lengthen to about 196 days by the end of the century, while the southern region could experience an average growing season of 223 days.

Maine's growing seasons have already expanded since the 1970's, said Glen Koehler, a scientist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Longer seasons could bring benefits to farmers accustomed to Maine's relatively cool climate, he said.

"This has advantages for opening up more annual and perennial crop options, as well as impacts on livestock production, mostly favorable, though it does more risk of heat stress and some other negative temperature impacts," Koehler said.

Longer, warmer growing seasons will also bring more pest problems. And Koehler said climate change has already made growing seasons in Maine more unpredictable, with warmer springs and sudden, late-season frosts. Many fruits and other crops were killed or scarred last May in Maine, after an early bloom and late-season frost.

Hannah Pingree, the director of the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future and co-chair of the Maine Climate Council, acknowledged that the new projections were bleak but said scientists and other experts are developing tools to help Mainers navigate through the changes.

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