Natural Disasters in Maine: What Is the Risk?

Over 1.3 million people live in Maine. Many of these people have experienced natural disasters in the state firsthand or had to evacuate because of disasters. However, many Maine residents don’t realize just how many types of natural disasters can occur in the state.

This analysis goes over what natural disasters occur in Maine, the worst natural disasters to hit the state since 2000, and what residents can do to prepare.

Is Maine At Risk of Natural Disasters?

Compared to the rest of the United States, Maine has a very low risk of natural disasters. Excluding COVID, Maine has had 33 disaster declarations since 2000. Of these, 22 were declared major disasters. 

Maine is also sometimes hit by natural disasters, which cause more than $1 billion in damages. Since 2000, there have been more than 4 separate $1-billion events. 

Worst Natural Disasters in Maine (Since 2000)

  1. 2016 Drought: $4.3 billion in damages and 0 deaths
  2. February 2015 Winter Storm and Cold Wave: $3.8 billion in damages and 30 deaths
  3. April 2007 Severe Weather and Flooding: $3.6 billion in damages and 9 deaths
  4. January 2018 Winter Storm: $1.3 billion in damages and 22 deaths

*Cost and death tolls are for the entire disaster, including in other states affected.

Most Common Natural Disasters in Maine

1. Flooding

Maine has five major rivers running through it and thousands of streams. Heavy rains, snowmelt, and ice jams can cause these waters to swell and rapidly flood.

The state also has 3,500 thousand miles of coastline at high risk for tidal flooding. The steep geography of Maine means flash flooding is also common in many parts of the state.

Over 8% of all properties in Maine are at substantial risk of flooding. This includes 8% of all properties in Portland and 13% in Lewiston.

Flooding can occur anytime in Maine but is most common in spring when there is lots of rain and snowmelt.

Maine Flood Stats

  • 55,700 properties at substantial risk in 2020
  • 2,381 properties at risk in Portland in 2020
  • 6,300 FEMA flood damage claims since 2000
  • 81,100 properties will be at risk by 2050
  • 23,900 properties at almost certain risk by 2050

Which Areas of Maine Are Most At-Risk of Flooding?

Floods can occur in all parts of Maine, but some areas of the state are particularly at-risk. Below are the areas of Maine with the greatest percentage of properties likely to experience flooding (based on 2020 calculations). 

  • Brewer: 22%
  • Old Town: 19%
  • Cape Neddick: 17%
  • Biddeford: 16%
  • Old Orchard Beach: 16%
  • Bath: 14%
  • Houlton: 14%

Because of climate change, the risk of flooding is growing in many parts of Maine. For example,  by 2050, it’s estimated that 29% of properties in Old Orchard Beach will be at risk.

2. Winter Weather

Maine Winter Weather Stats

  • Average snowfall per year: 77″
  • Snowfall days per year: 99 days
  • Coldest recorded temperature: -50°F at Big Black River in 2009
  • Record snowfall: 40″ in Orono on December 30th, 1962

Maine ranks #2 in the country for the most snowfall and snowfall days per year.   This snowfall often comes down as snowstorms or blizzards. Many of these winter storms leave Maine covered in over two feet of snow. Mountain parts of Maine can receive even more.

During the Nor’easter of 1952, for example, more than 25 inches of snow fell on Portland. During the 1962 snowstorm, the town of Orono received a record-breaking 40 inches of snow in one day and 10 feet of snow in the region over the 10-day event.

Considering how much snowfall Maine gets, it should be no surprise that winter vehicle accidents are common. With 9.6 fatal winter accidents per 1 million drivers, Maine ranks #7 among the riskiest states for winter driving. However, a separate analysis adjusted for miles traveled ranked Maine as #21 for the worst states for winter driving.

3. Freezing rain

The climate of the Northeast makes it ideal for freezing rain. In Maine, some areas have up to 18 hours of freezing rain annually. This makes Maine one of the highest-risk states in the USA for freezing rain.

Freezing rain most frequently occurs during December and January, but fall and spring freeze events also occur. 

Icy road conditions from the rain make vehicle accidents and slip-and-fall injuries common. It’s also common for people to lose power during freezing rain events, meaning that thousands can be left without a way to heat their homes during the coldest months.

4. Wildfires

Approximately 90% of Maine is covered by forest, more than in any other state. Despite this, Maine doesn’t see many wildfires. When wildfires do occur, they are usually small and quickly contained. 

Because of climate change, though, the risk of wildfires in Maine is growing. By 2050, an estimated 21% of all properties in the state will be at risk of wildfire.

Maine Wildfire Stats

  • Acres burned in 2021: 377
  • Number of fires in 2021: 636
  • Number of properties currently at risk of wildfire: 97,259

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