Six times in the past three centuries that snow pummeled Maine

By Emily Burnham, Bangor Daily News Staff

Meteorologists predicted that the Feb. 2 snowfall in Maine dropped 6 to 12 inches in most corners of the state, with the National Weather Service’s Caribou and Gray offices issuing winter storm warnings for most of their respective areas.

Though today’s storm is the first major snowfall for most of the state this winter, seasoned Mainers know that, compared with other big snowstorms, 6 to 12 inches is, essentially, no big deal. In fact, we’ve seen record-setting whoppers in just the past decade alone — though written records of major blizzards stretch back more than 300 years, at this point. 

Here are some of the most noteworthy snow events to hit Maine over the past three centuries. As a wise colleague here at the BDN once sang: this is Maine, and it’s going to snow.

18th- and 19th-century storms

Consistent meteorological record-keeping in the United States didn’t really begin until the 20th century, but there are still some records of massive snow falls and other wild weather in Maine prior to 1900. 

One of the most notable is the legendary Great Snow of 1717 — technically, a series of blizzards over about 10 days in February and March of that year that blanketed the New England colonies, including what is now Maine, in up to 6 feet of snow, and drifts of up to 25 feet. Entire houses were buried, with only smoke from chimneys indicating the people inside were alive. Livestock and wild deer populations were decimated, and predators like wolves reportedly came into settlements and towns in search of food. Cotton Mather and Henry David Thoreau mention it in their writings. 

Some 170 years later, the Great Blizzard of 1888 also dumped multiple feet of snow on the East Coast, from Chesapeake Bay north to Maine. Between March 11 and 14 of that year, society ground to a halt, from train service stopping to telegrams not making it through. Much of Maine received more than 20 inches of snow.

Great Blizzard of 1952

Over a wild and windy Sunday and Monday in February 1952, all of Maine was hit by what came to be known as the Great Blizzard of 1952. That storm became famous nationally because of the wreck of the SS Pendleton off the coast of Cape Cod, which resulted in a legendary Coast Guard rescue of its crew. In Maine specifically, it left major snow behind. 

In Portland, 25.3 inches of snow fell — a whole lot of the white stuff, though that amount was dwarfed by the nearly 36 inches received in the more mountainous interior. With winds gusting up to 65 miles per hour, there were also snow drifts in some places that were up to 12 feet tall. 

Dec. 30, 1962 

One of the most overwhelming snow events on record in Maine was the snowstorm on Dec. 30, 1962. The majority of the state was walloped by a storm that dropped multiple feet of snow from north to south, and it saw the state hit its one-day snowfall record, according to weather service meteorologist Mark Bloomer. That record was hit in the town of Orono, which saw 40 inches of snow fall in a 24-hour period. Luckily, classes at both the University of Maine and at Orono schools were both on winter break.

That late 1962 storm also helped set the state’s 10-day snowfall record, with the weather station at Ripogenus Dam, about 10 miles west of Katahdin, seeing 71 inches of snow in the 10 days including Dec. 30. That’s just shy of six feet of snow. Tacko Fall, who plays for both the Portland Red Claws and the Boston Celtics, is 7 feet, 5 inches — he’d be up to his shoulders in that amount of snow.

The winter of 1962-1963 was also the snowiest on record for Bangor, with 182 inches of snow in total falling on the Queen City that year. And, that Dec. 30, 1962, storm was also the second-largest one-day snowfall total for Bangor, with 25.5 inches of snow falling. 

Big numbers in 2013

Portland set a city snow record of 27.9 inches in 1979 that would remain unbeaten for 34 years — until Feb. 8, 2013, when a whopping 31.9 inches of snow fell at Portland International Jetport. The associated snowstorm caused so much damage to southern Maine that Androscoggin, Cumberland, Knox and York counties received $3.5 million in federal disaster relief funds. That snow total in Portland also beats Bangor’s now 93-years-and-running record of 30 inches of snow on Dec. 14, 1927.

The winter of 2015

While we did say that the weather service’s highest official 10-day snowfall record was set at Ripogenus Dam in 1962, with 71 inches of snow, the weather service did note a few years back that a Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network station in Eastport actually recorded that between Jan. 24 and Feb. 2, 2015, Eastport received 76 inches of snow. That beats the weather service’s record by 5 inches, though it’s not included among the agency’s records. 

It also set a record for Washington County, with 200 inches of snow in total falling on Eastport for the 2014-2015 winter season. It almost set a record for Bangor as well, with 137 inches that winter, making it the second snowiest winter on record for Bangor, after 1962-1963.

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