Caribou loses 27 inches of snowpack during warm week

Firefighters from several different area departments, including Levant and Stetson,  put out a grass fire in a field belonging to James Pimental on the Wolfsboro Road in Stetson on Thursday, March 22, 2012.
Firefighters from several different area departments, including Levant and Stetson, put out a grass fire in a field belonging to James Pimental on the Wolfsboro Road in Stetson on Thursday, March 22, 2012.
Posted March 23, 2012, at 8:54 p.m.
Last modified March 23, 2012, at 9:48 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The National Weather Service issued a warning Friday about high fire danger for portions of eastern and Down East Maine because of the dry conditions and strong winds.

The Red Flag Warning was issued by the weather service’s Caribou office Friday morning and was to remain in effect until 8 p.m. Friday.

“With the very high fire danger and dry fuels, any grass or brush fires that ignite could spread and rapidly become out of control,” the weather service warned in its alert.

The past week’s dry conditions were due in large part to record-breaking warmth in northern New England, a trend expected to come to an end this weekend.

Meteorologist Rich Norton of the weather service’s Caribou office said Friday that the unseasonably warm weather this spring has brought about one of the fastest snowmelts the weather service office in Caribou has ever seen.

“Here at our office we went from 27 inches [of snow] a week ago Wednesday to 0 today,” Norton said.

“We lost 27 inches of snow in a week. This is the first time we’ve ever had a warm-up like this in March,” he said, adding that the weather conditions seen in Maine this week don’t typically come about until mid-April.

The Caribou weather experts put a loop video on their Facebook page that shows a dramatic retreat in Maine’s snowpack.

“This loop shows the snow depth day-by-day from March 15 to March 23,” the Caribou office said in a post accompanying the video. “Right now, most of the snow that’s left is in the trees.”

Maine saw five consecutive days of record-setting heat, with temperatures this week climbing into the 80s in some parts of the state

“To put things in perspective… this was a once in a lifetime warm spell for March… and not just here but across much of the northern tier of the northern U.S,” the staff of the weather service office in Caribou posted in a public information statement about this week’s heat wave.

The weather service said that Bangor and Caribou both shattered records on Sunday at 76 degrees and 64 degrees, respectively. It got even warmer as the week progressed, with high temperature records being set the next four days.

On Monday, Bangor hit 68 degrees, setting a new record. On Tuesday, Bangor’s high of 78 degrees and Caribou’s 73 degrees both set records. The weather service noted that Caribou’s high for Tuesday broke the previous daily record by 23 degrees.

On Wednesday, it got even hotter in Caribou, which set a new all-time record for March when the thermometer hit 75 degrees. It was ditto for Bangor, where the temperature hit 83. Bangor’s high for the day marked the earliest 80-plus reading on record — weeks ahead of the previous earliest of April 11.

Thursday was even warmer. Bangor hit 84 degrees, setting a new all-time record for March. Caribou’s high of 73 easily set a daily record.

But with cooler temperatures and significantly less wind around the corner, the weather service expected that the Red Flag fire warning would expire Friday night.

Norton said high temperatures for Saturday in the Bangor area were expected to drop to the low to mid-50s and then into the more seasonable 40s for Sunday through the end of next week.

Reduced winds and up to a quarter-inch of rain predicted for late Saturday into late Monday afternoon also were expected to further mitigate the chances of wildfires, Norton said.

Friday’s Red Flag Warning covered central and southern Penobscot County, southern Piscataquis County and all of Hancock and Washington counties.

The warning stated that “a combination of strong winds, low relative humidity and warm temperatures [in the 50s] will create explosive fire growth potential.”

Friday’s weather conditions resulted in Class 3 and Class 4 — or high and very high — danger ratings on the Maine Forest Service’s daily forest fire danger report. The forest service’s classification system ranks the potential for a wildfire on a scale of of 1 to 5, with 1 representing low potential and 5 signaling extreme danger.

A rating of “high” danger means that all fine, dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes, according to the forest service. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape. Fires may become serious and their control difficult, unless they are hit hard and fast while small.

The “very high” risk rating means fires start easily from all causes and immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity, the forest service says. Spot fires are a constant danger.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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