BANGOR, Maine — Unseasonably warm weather has been a welcome sign of spring for many, but a concern for others such as maple syrup producers.
The record high temperatures have the golfers and skunks out of hibernation early, with the latter tearing up lawns in search of an abundance of grubs. Deer tick populations are expected to be much higher than usual. Snowpacks are way down and not a threat for flooding unless we get heavy rains. And the dry weather should keep the early mosquito season at bay.
The untimely weather does have maple syrup makers concerned.
“It’s not what we’d like to see in the month of March,” said Maine Maple Syrup Producers Vice President Eric Ellis.
Many places in Maine hit record temperatures on Sunday, with much of the warm weather forecast to continue through Thursday.
Chris Norcross, meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said Bangor recorded a high of 76 on Sunday, breaking the old mark of 65. Caribou’s previous record was 48 for March 18. It was 64 on Sunday.
Norcross said temperatures could reach into the 80s in some parts of the state on Wednesday.
The warm weather has played havoc for the syrup makers who fear the temperatures may spur the trees to bud early.
“The trees are much further advanced in the process of coming out of the winter, and thinking it’s time for them to put their leaves on,” said Ellis. “We are probably the only folks that aren’t looking forward to these temperatures this week.”
Ellis explained that warm afternoons mixed with freezing nights is ideal for syrup flow, but that hasn’t been what’s happening.
“As a sugar maker during the season, we’re looking at 40-45 [degrees] as our friend, not 50-60 or even 70. It’s not of any benefit to us,” Ellis said.
When the trees start to bud, that’s it for the season, he said.
“Once the trees bud, even with appropriate temperatures, the sap that is given up doesn’t make good syrup,” he said.
Even though it looks like a poor year for maple syrup production, Ellis said he hasn’t given up hope.
“It’s still possible [to have a decent season]. We can’t rule it out,” he said. “We’re not going to give up on it until the last gun is fired. This next week is very critical to us.”
The high temperatures, however, have been a definite bonus for local golf courses.
“We did great this weekend,” said Whitney Hand, Bucksport Golf Course manager. “It was like a day in July. Our parking lot was overloaded. It was crazy.”
Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono also has been busy, said club superintendent Dan Allen.
“We are very, very busy. This weekend was great for business,” he said. “I think we did 120 rounds.
“Anything before the middle of April is a bonus,” added Allen.
Neither golf course had to deal with a problem that some homeowners have reported — skunks.
“What you’re already seeing are skunks are coming out of hibernation and lawns are being dug up,” said University of Maine Cooperative Extension entomologist Jim Dill.
The warm fall and spring have made white grubs more active than usual, and the skunks are digging up lawns looking for them.
“Thankfully we haven’t seen anything like that so far,” said Hand.
Dill also warned of a larger than usual deer tick population.
“It looks like we might have a pretty good tick year,” Dill said. “They’re active 40 degrees and above, many days in the winter, the ticks were active.”
Because of last year’s good acorn crop to feed white-footed mice, a tick carrier, ticks have maintained a strong population, he said.
The lack of snow in many parts of the state may help keep another bug more manageable, however, at least early this year.
Melted snow “fills up depressions where [mosquito] eggs were laid the year before,” said Dill. “There’s no snow to fill those depressions in, unless we get a wet spring. It probably won’t be as bad as it usually is.”
The low snow levels also have dampened concerns for flooding.
But rain is a big question mark when it comes to flooding, said Greg Stewart of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Maine Water Science Center in Augusta.
“We’re above normal for stream flows for this time of year,” Stewart said. “The flows are nothing to be concerned about at this point. The real worry is if we get any rain.”
The snow on the ground has a fairly high density water content, he said, making flooding a possibility.
“When we talk about flood potential, the driver is going to be the rainfall. Snowpack is an indicator and a tool to let us know what could be coming,” said Stewart.
He said it’s too early to tell what kind of rain, if any, the weekend will bring and what impact that may have on the potential for flooding.
But for the next couple of days, according to the National Weather Service office in Caribou, the forecast calls for more record-shattering high temperatures across much of the state.
“There aren’t enough superlatives to describe how unusual it is to have an airmass this warm this early in the season,” said a weather service press release issued Monday.