The Star-Herald

The ‘weather people’ respond

Well, this is certainly a first. In 98 columns I’ve not had to correct another columnist. Having already done so privately, I find it necessary to do so publicly, in these pages, so that those who read the column “Bug Guts & Beauty” in the March 14th edition of the Star Herald would get the straight dope.

The author of that column impugned the reputation of the WAGM weather team with the baseless assertion, “The local weather people still cannot figure out if the additional daylight is a gain or a loss.” It turns out that the author’s main issue was with the way we display information on a particular graphic, specifically, the one which contains the sunrise and sunset times, along with the daylight length information.

So perhaps more appropriate wording in “Bugs” might have been, “I don’t understand why WAGM shows the daylight information this way…”, rather than claiming that we don’t know the difference between gain and loss. The author of “Bugs” would prefer that we only showed “gain” during the increasing daylight part of the year, and “loss” during the decreasing daylight part of the year.

For the record, I have always liked showing “gain/loss” together on that graphic, because seeing “loss,” while you are gaining, enhances the satisfaction you feel when you realize that you are not heading into the dark days of December.

OK — on to this week’s column, and the talk about town, all around, is of the deep snowpack and, more specifically, what will become of all of the water locked up in it. With the 10th anniversary of the major flooding on the St. John River approaching, everyone is hoping for an “orderly melt.”  A number of factors are assessed in projecting the spring flood risk, and one of them involves actually calculating how much water is contained in the snowpack.

Across the state, there are locations where snow cores are taken, allowing for the measurement of the water in the snowpack. The Maine Cooperative Snow Survey Program recorded 8 to 12 inches of water in the most recent report, dated March 18-21. To compare that to the Big Winter of 2007-08, during the March 24-26 period, most of The County still had more than 12 inches of water locked up in the snow. Then, of course, we got that heavy, region-wide rain toward the end of April. And that was all she wrote. The Saint John crest in Fort Kent shattered the previous record.

A great place to go to find updated information on the water equivalent in the snowpack, known as the SWE, and information in general on potential flood issues during our spring melt season, is to head on over to the Aroostook County Flood Watch Facebook page. This page is a collaboration among a number of entities, including the Aroostook County Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service Caribou office, and the weather team at WAGM. All organizations share flood information with one another as it is received, and we urge citizens to post any flood issues they observe as well.

It is important to remember that there are two types of flooding we always have to think about in spring: ice jam flooding, and general river flooding. The 1994 Fort Fairfield flood and the 2012 Perth-Andover flood were ice jam floods. The 2008 Saint John River flood was an all-river flood from a combination of snowmelt and a region-wide heavy rainfall.

We shall hope the rivers behave. But we are going to be keeping a lot of snow on the ground well into April, because we are looking at a cool pattern. In fact, the guidance at this writing (March 29) is showing that today, April 4th, could be a snowy early April day. One last note: there have only been six daily (midnight-to-midnight) snowfalls in excess of 20 inches at Caribou, going back to 1939, and one of them was in April — April 7, 1982. Many County residents remember it well. For the entire month of April 1982, Caribou recorded 36 inches of snow.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at  

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