Officials Blame Drought for Walloping by Northeast Storm

By PATRICK WHITTLE, Associated Press

A car leaves a trail of light as it passes under power lines weighed down by toppled pine trees in Freeport, Maine, on Oct. 31, 2017. Power companies are predicting a a multiple-day recovery after a severe storm knocked out electricity to nearly two thirds of the state. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Drought conditions across much of Maine may have contributed to the large numbers 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 will likely be much different.

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

Virtually 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 the wind gusts were the strongest.

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

Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage will be touring storm-damaged areas on Wednesday. He had declared a state of emergency on Monday, the day the storm peaked during the early morning hours.

Maine’s two major utilities were still reporting more than 200,000 customers without power early Wednesday morning. But they said favorable weather and extra crews will allow them to complete the task of restoring power this weekend.

Other states in the Northeast are also still cleaning up from the storm.

Chris Gamache, chief of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, said all-terrain vehicle trails in the state took “a direct hit.” Democratic Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said utility National Grid was probably “caught a little flat-footed” by an unexpectedly strong storm.

The scope of the damage in Maine made comparisons to the 1998 ice storm inevitable. According to the Maine Emergency Management Agency, that storm resulted in six deaths and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to public utilities, private property and the forest industry. All 16 Maine counties were declared federal disaster areas.

Tree limbs fell from the weight of the ice during that storm, while this storm took down entire trees, said Tom Hawley of the National Weather Service.

Many people affected by that disaster also were affected by this week’s storm.

Roger Pomerleau turned his business into a makeshift shelter after the ice storm, allowing employees of his home furnishings store to use the washing machines and refrigerators while their homes were without power.

This time around, the Hallowell, Maine, resident is the one waiting for the power to come back on. But he and others who suffered through both storms said this one will likely be less of an ordeal.

“The temperature is in our favor right now. Those were cold temperatures back then,” Pomerleau said. “Freezing temperatures. Sump pumps weren’t working, cellars were filling up with water. Very different now.”

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Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine, Marina Villeneuve in Augusta, Maine, and Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.

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