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Drought may have aided storm that walloped Northeast

  • A car leaves a trail of light as it passes under power lines weighed down by toppled trees in Freeport, Maine, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. Utility crews scrambled to restore power throughout New England on Tuesday, one day after a severe storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and torrential rain. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • A woman walks down a street blocked by a storm-toppled tree, Maine, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017, in Portland, Maine. Utility crews scrambled to restore power throughout New England on Tuesday, one day after a severe storm packing hurricane-force wind gusts and torrential rain. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty

  • Julia Acord, 11, left, and Abigail Ferguson, 12, photograph a sign that announces the postponement of Halloween activities in Brunswick, Maine, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. The town postponed its annual Halloween parade and trick-or-treating due to cleanup from Monday's severe storm that left two-thirds of the state without power. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) Robert F. Bukaty



Associated Press
Thursday, November 02, 2017

Drought conditions, recent rainfall and an unusual storm path in 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 likely will be much different.

Because of dry conditions, the trees’ roots weren’t healthy, and ground conditions and 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.

Maine’s two major utilities were still reporting more than 200,000 customers without power Wednesday afternoon. But they said favorable weather and extra crews will allow them to complete the task of restoring power this weekend. Across the Northeast, more than 440,000 people were still without power Wednesday.

Several factors came into play to knock down so many trees: The dry fall stunted the growth of tree roots, recent soaking rain softened the soil, and powerful winds came from a different direction, said William Livingston, professor of forest resources at the University of Maine.

In Maine, nor’easters create northeastern winds, and thunderstorms blow in from the west and north, but these powerful winds came from the southeast, Livingston said. And the winds were exceptionally powerful, with four times the force of a common wind storm, he said.

“These are lot of different conditions that have come together. This may have been a unique situation where nobody could’ve predicted this,” he said.

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

Several school districts in New Hampshire were struggling to get up and running. In Vermont, dairy farmers who lost electricity were relying on generators to power the equipment that allows them to milk cows and to keep milk cool.