PORTLAND (AP) – The recent rains are making it wet, but the entire state is still abnormally dry or in drought conditions.

Even with rain falling every day for the past week in places, precipitation is off, river flows are low up north and groundwater levels are down in central and western Maine.

Officially, more than a third of the state in western and northern Maine is in a moderate drought, while the rest is rated as abnormally dry, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Greg Zielinski, the state climatologist and a professor at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute in Orono, said the state is still feeling the effects of 2001.

“That was the driest year on record and we still haven’t completely recovered,” Zielinski said.

The National Drought Mitigation Center, a coalition based at the University of Nebraska that tracks drought conditions in North America, says some part of Maine has been in drought condition for 101 weeks now.

During the driest time, Maine experienced extreme drought conditions, hundreds of water wells ran dry and communities issued low-water alerts.

That’s no longer the case, but the state is still water-deprived.

According to the National Weather Service, Portland through Monday had 14.27 inches of rain for the year. That’s 24 percent below normal for the year and more than three inches less than last year at this time.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported Tuesday that the river flows in central and northern Maine were well below normal – in some cases less than half the normal flow.

Bob Lent, district chief of the U.S. Geological Survey in Augusta, said groundwater levels have improved in northern, eastern and southern Maine. But hydrologists are concerned about the low levels in central and western Maine, and fear wells could run dry this summer if conditions turn dry.

Of course, if you’re a tourist or a farmer wanting to plant crops it certainly doesn’t feel like a drought with the gray and wet conditions of the past week, said Marc Loiselle of the Maine Geological Survey. Portland has recorded precipitation for seven days straight, with Monday’s 0.91 inches the heaviest dousing.

“Farmers say, ‘The rain has to stop, I have to plant,”‘ Loiselle said. “But the people with water wells are saying, ‘I love it, I love it, give me more.’ So it depends what perspective you look at it from.”

Maine has come close to pulling itself out of drought conditions in the past year. In December, for instance, only the far northern tip of the state was listed as being in a moderate drought or with abnormally dry conditions.

But then Maine had its third-driest January on record, causing the drought conditions to spread.

Zielinski said Maine needs prolonged or heavy rains to get back to normal.

“If we really want to get out of the long-term drought, what we need is something like a tropical storm system or a hurricane,” he said.

AP-ES-05-27-03 1524EDT



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