Byron the Maine Wildlife Park resident moose enjoys a cooling hose-off on Tuesday in his shelter at the park in Gray. Byron uses the shelter to get out of the sun and cool off. Moose begin trying to cool off whenever the outdoor temperature rises above 50 degrees. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

My hair has been in a bun for three months straight. I have a fan pointed directly at me as I type this.

Don’t ask if I’m wearing pants.

It’s been one brutal summer of heat and humidity, and not just anecdotally brutal — legitimate, the-numbers-prove-it brutal.

Which begs the question after mopping our collective brows: Is all this heat and humidity good for something?

Turns out it is.

It’s excellent for turtles. Eggplants. Ice cream sales. And without all of this humidity, we wouldn’t get the impending use of the phrase “chillin’ department” by a corporate spokesperson. More on all that in a sec.

ICE CREAM EATIN’, RECORD FLIRTIN’ HUMID

It’s officially the second most humid year on record since 1948, according to National Weather Service data measured at the Portland International Jetport and jogged by Iowa State University.

And the year’s not over yet.

With 264 hours of humidity logged in 2021 as of Tuesday, we just this week sweat past the 1988 record (262).

The highest humidity year saw an astounding 425 hours in 2018, which, welp.

Maine-based Gifford’s Ice Cream representatives say sales increase 13% to 15 % when the temperatures rise from the 70s to the 80s and the 80s to the 90s. Courtesy Gifford’s Ice Cream

Meteorologist Chris Legro with the National Weather Service in Maine said moisture in this neck of the woods usually comes from the Gulf of Mexico or Western Atlantic.

“So any time that we get a pattern that sets up that has a predominant wind direction from either the southwest or southeast, that’s going to make us more humid,” said Legro. “They can be very stable. Oftentimes, even if they break for a little bit, like say around the Fourth of July, they tend to rebuild.”

On the upside: Long stretches of wet are usually followed by a long stretch of dry, and vice versa.

“The weather likes to catch up to average over time,” said Legro. “When we have an extended dry stretch like we did in May and June, it’s not really surprising that July ended up being so wet because we like to seek balance in the end.”

So Mother Nature wants us to wear pants again. Eventually.

In the meantime, let’s grab two scoops of fly fishing fudge.

Gifford’s Ice Cream, the fifth-generation Maine-made ice cream company with 100-plus flavors, sells more than 1 million cones a year from its five stands and definitely notices when the temps spike.

Breaking temperatures down into blocks of 10 — 60 to 70 degrees, 70 to 80 degrees and 80 to 90 degrees — sales in sunny weather will usually increase 13% to 15% moving from one block up to the next and at least 34% moving up two blocks, according to the company.

Temperatures above 90 will also shift some business to cooler evening hours.

“There’s no better way to beat the heat than getting some ice cream or a frappe — and Mainers come out in droves when the temps start to rise so they can cool off with some Gifford’s,” said CEO Lindsay Skilling. “The last few weeks have been super busy at our stands and we’ve loved seeing everyone’s faces as we relish in these last few weeks of sweet Maine summer.”

Maine-based Aroma Joe’s new frozen hot chocolate, a new drink in the company’s “freezin’ department.” Submitted photo

Aroma Joe’s, the Maine-based coffee chain with 77 stores, 30 of them in Maine, says it also sees a warmed up bottom line in weather like this.

“Not surprisingly, we see about a 25% lift in the chillin’ department — think iced coffee, cold brew, lemonade, etc. — and 40% lift in the freezin’ department — think frozen blended drinks like smoothies, frozen lemonade, our new Frojoe — during warm months,” said Chief Marketing Officer Caroline McAleese Riley. “Funny enough, we also just launched a frozen hot chocolate and while early, the warm weather has definitely had a great impact on sales.”

MOSQUITOES, PLANTS ROOT FOR HUMIDITY

Tomatoes, bell peppers, chiles, tomatillos and eggplants all revel in this weather, according to Tori Lee Jackson, a professor of agriculture and natural resources with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

“Hot humid weather is a boon to our gardens as many of the plants we like to grow for food are originally from tropical regions of the world,” she said. “This is also commonly known as ‘corn growing weather.’ Squash and pumpkins can really put on some serious growth at this time of year, particularly if there is adequate moisture and the soil is reasonably fertile.”

Gardeners beware, though: Plant diseases, and some insects, dig the humidity, too.

Lynne M. Holland, a horticulture professional at the extension, says to keep watering plants even in humid weather if anything short of an inch of rain falls in a week.

“(It’s) best done early in the day so the foliage of the plants has a chance to dry before the sun goes down,” she said. “Damp leaves overnight, especially if the temperature drops, invites other disease issues.”

And speaking of pests: Dog tick numbers this year, which have been in abundance, are more linked to last year’s mild winter than this year’s heat and humidity, according to Griffin Dill, an extension tick and insect expert.

Synchronous fireflies light up the trees in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in this Associated Press photo. Lewiston-based Farmers’ Almanac Editor Peter Geiger says fireflies love heat and humidity. 

Similarly, deer ticks tend to be active in early summer and then again in late summer, so “I don’t expect that the hot, humid weather will impact fall numbers,” he said.

Mosquitoes, however, are abuzz.

“As standing water dries during the heat of summer, the eggs can also remain viable for months or even years,” Griffin said. “The amount of rain we’ve received across much of the state certainly seems to have been sufficient to allow mosquitoes to remain plentiful. Populations of most of Maine’s 45 mosquito species tend to naturally decline toward the end of summer.”

Before you dwell too much on Maine having 45 mosquito species, Peter Geiger can see at least one buggy bright spot.

“Humidity brings out the lightning bugs,” said Geiger, the longtime editor of the Farmers’ Almanac out of Lewiston. “We did an article on ‘Are the fireflies disappearing?’ because many (people) aren’t seeing as many fireflies as when we were kids. Turns out these bugs, which are really beetles, thrive in humidity. So, if we can rejoice about humidity, it lights up the skies at night with fireflies.”

The almanac’s predicting a warm September for the Northeast with more humidity on tap for the second week of the month.

“Then like a miracle, we talk colder temps starting in October,” Geiger said.

The moose at the Maine Wildlife Park will be thrilled to hear it.

Whitey, an albino raccoon at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, enjoys a popsicle made out of bone broth on Tuesday. Some of the animals are given the frozen treats in the warm weather. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

IF YOU GIVE A MOOSE A SPRINKLER …

Park Superintendent Howie Powell said the lone moose at the Gray park detests the humidity more than all other animals there.

Moose have an internal cooling mechanism that starts kicking in when it’s around 50 degrees out, “so you get into the 90s, it’s pretty extreme for them,” Powell said.

So staff set up a sprinkler. Plus, “we hose him off all the time — he seems to love it,” Powell said. “He’ll come up and stick his head into it, like a kid playing in a hose.”

For other animals, it’s plenty of water and an icy custom nosh.

“We (offer) popsicles — blood popsicles for cats, fruit for the porcupine,” he said.

Willy, a fisher at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, enjoys a “blood popsicle” on Tuesday. Animals are given frozen treats made out of species-appropriate ingredients in hot weather. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Yes. Blood pops. But before you get caught up on that, the cold-blooded turtles, meanwhile, couldn’t be happier, even without a snack.

“Turtles definitely like the humidity,” Powell said. “If you go to a pond, you’re going to see the painted turtles all up on top, sunning.”

It turns out people are also sunning themselves more this year.

Day visits to Maine state parks were up 17% through July compared to this time last year, at 1.6 million, according to spokesman Jim Britt at the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Camping stays are up 23% over last year, which had already broken records for stays.

“We are on track to break day use and camping records again this year and the heat and humidity are certainly a factor,” Britt said. “So is the stress of COVID, with everyone wanting to be in the fresh air and enjoying swimming holes and beaches around Maine.”

Where pants are not required! But swimsuits, at a minimum, are.

Sounds perfect.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: