Dan Bilodeau of the Perkins Ridge Sno-Travelers snowmobile club walks March 21 along a snowmobile trail that usually extends onto Lake Auburn in a typical winter. This particular trail along Spring Road in Auburn was never open to traffic this winter due to the lack of snow. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

AUBURN — Water sloshed on Lake Auburn’s shoreline March 21 as Dan Bilodeau, trail master for Perkins Ridge Sno-Travelers and Lake Auburn Community Center, stood next to the lake. Not even a thin layer of ice remained on the edge of the lake after the warm winter that led to the lake’s earliest ever recorded ice-out.

Only Nordic skiers, snowshoers and walkers were able to use the roughly 90 miles of snowmobile trails in Auburn this year, Bilodeau said. Most winters, March can offer up a couple of final weeks of snowmobiling here as the season wanes, but this year, the lack of snow and lake ice at critical access points on the lake largely prevented any snowmobiling.

People used to bring their snowmobiles from places farther south or out of state to use the trails in Auburn. This year, members of the local snowmobile clubs had to trailer their snowmobiles to northern parts of the state to ride them, Bilodeau said.

Fog rises above Thompson Lake along the Otisfield shoreline on March 28. Ice-out was March 15, the earliest ever recorded. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“Pretty much, it’s been shut down, it was never safe,” he said about the trails in relation to the lake ice. “… We were landlocked because every water body was open, so everyone just went a ways and then turned around.”

Lake Auburn saw ice-out March 12, the earliest ever recorded since 1836, according to Erica Kidd, watershed manager for the Auburn Water and Sewage Districts and Lewiston Water Division. There were about 55 days between ice-in and ice-out this winter, which is also the shortest duration of ice cover since ice-in information started being recorded in 1953.

Many other lakes around the state also saw early ice-outs and shorter periods between ice-in and ice-out, and many towns had far less snowfall than average. The warmer temperatures this winter largely drove the lack of snow and lake ice.


Maine’s overall average daily temperature, December 2023 through February 2024, was 5.8 degrees warmer than normal at 24.2 degrees, according to data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Though it was the second warmest winter recorded statewide, with 2016 being the warmest with an average temperature of 24.4, it was the warmest winter recorded for the northern region of the state, according to NOAA data.

This warming trend was largely due to three factors: An El Nino weather pattern, the earth’s natural fluctuations in weather patterns, and climate change, according to Ivan Fernandez, professor emeritus and climate research scientist at the University of Maine in Orono.

The result was less snow and lake ice, limiting Maine’s traditional outdoor activities including, skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing.

“We’re definitely seeing the thumbprint of climate change on the kinds of experiences we’re having,” he said.



For roughly the past decade that Ron Armontrout has lived full-time on Thompson Lake in Oxford, he has always observed people on the lake during the winter, he said. When the ice is thick enough, he enjoys snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and walking his dogs on the lake. It is also a chance to socialize with neighbors who frequently ice fish.

This year he didn’t go out on the lake at all, even after he felt it was safe enough to walk on, because there was hardly anybody on the lake, he said. The few neighbors who do ice fish had fewer friends over and fished closer to shore, and he saw no snowmobiles drive across the lake.

“I did not see a single skimobile go down the lake, which is highly unusual,” said Armontrout, who is president of the Thompson Lake Environmental Association. “So much less activity on the lake.”

Ron Armontrout, president of the Thompson Lake Environmental Association, stands Thursday next to Thompson Lake in Oxford. He said he is concerned about the effects the warming climate will have on one of Maine’s cleanest and clearest lakes. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Over the past few years he has noticed shorter periods between ice-in and ice-out on the lake, along with less snow compared to years when he first started living permanently on the lake, he said.

Ice-out this year happened March 15, according to data reported to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands Boating Facilities Division. For most years since reporting started in 2003, ice-out hasn’t happened on the lake until at least April, with 2016 and 2010 being the exceptions, according to state data, though ice-out information for eight of the years since 2003 was not submitted.

The state does not get ice-out information for all Maine lakes, but so far this year many lakes that usually experience April ice-outs have already experienced ice-out, according to state data.


Long Lake also saw its earliest ice-out since record keeping began in 1873, according to Colin Holme, executive director of Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton. The 11-mile-long lake in Harrison, Bridgton and Naples, also experienced the shortest duration of ice cover since record-keeping began. “It was very dramatic this year,” he said.

Ice-out has happened five times on the lake in March, with the first March ice-out in 1981, he said. The other four occurred in years since 2010.

Dan Bilodeau of the Perkins Ridge Sno-Travelers snowmobile club removes a stop sign March 21 along a snowmobile trail in Auburn. This particular trail along the Spring Road was never open to traffic this winter due to the lack of snow. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Less ice means lakes will warm quicker and stay warm longer, making them more susceptible to algae blooms and drastic changes in their ecosystems and health, he said. Aquatic plants will have a longer growing season, which disproportionately benefits invasive plant species. Bacteria and pathogens survive longer in warmer water.

Armontrout is concerned about Thompson Lake’s health and the impacts of less ice, he said. He is also concerned about erosion around lakes.

The state has seen significant rainstorms this winter and much of it has caused lake levels to rise. This, coupled with high winds from storms, create high choppy waves that beat against the shoreline, causing erosion, he said.

National Weather Service stations at Gray and Portland recorded above-normal precipitation for December 2023 and January this year, by several inches, according to data on the National Weather Service website, while precipitation for February was far below average.


So far in March, Gray has had 9.73 inches of precipitation as of Thursday. It’s already more than double the amount of normal precipitation for this month, according to National Weather Service data. Portland has also had double the normal precipitation for the month, as of March 28, with 10.58 inches.

Armontrout will start evaluating property along Thompson Lake’s shoreline in May for erosion, but from what he has observed from his property, he thinks the frequency of choppy waves and high water this year is troubling, he said.


It was not until after winter officially ended that many places in Maine saw the most significant snowfall last weekend, but by then many snowmobile clubs had closed trails for the season, as was the case for the Sabattus Mountaineers Snowmobile Club.

For the past four or five years snow conditions have not been ideal for snowmobiling in the area, club President Bob Boulette said. The recent trend has been snow, then rain soon after, which ices trails and makes for poor snowmobiling conditions.

“It’s just not good conditions when it’s icy like that,” he said. “Snowmobiles need snow for lubrication on the tracks and to cool the engines and stuff, so they weren’t very good conditions.”


More frequent snowmelts during winter also have negative impacts on snowmobile trails, causing the ground to warm up and rut, Boulette said. It is another reason why trails get shut down for periods of time.

Dan Bilodeau of the Perkins Ridge Sno-Travelers snowmobile club walks along a snowmobile trail March 21 in Auburn. The trail was never open to traffic this winter because of the lack of snow. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Over his lifetime, Boulette said, he has seen winters change in Maine, making the situation more difficult for an activity he loves. “We’re definitely getting affected by climate change with the snowmobiling.”

Sabattus trails were particularly bad after the Dec. 18, 2023, wind and rainstorm. It took club members about six weeks to clear all the debris and downed trees, Boulette said, noting that with dwindling club numbers and older members, more volunteers are needed.

The club maintains about 20 miles of trails through Sabattus, but it only opened those trails for about a week and a half in February before closing them out of caution to prevent damage to the trails and to private property, according Boulette.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collects snow data at sites around the state. Though data is missing for a few years at some of the reporting sites, many places saw almost half of their usual snowfall this winter.

From December 2023 to February this year, NOAA data shows Turner received 17.8 fewer inches of snow than usual. Poland got 22.1 fewer inches, and Rangeley got 44.8 fewer inches. Bangor saw nearly half as much of its normal snowfall this winter, getting 24.8 fewer inches than normal. Portland got less than half of its typical snowfall, with 25.7 fewer inches than normal.



Just because this past winter was warm doesn’t mean next winter will be too, said Fernandez at the University of Maine. However, more of the large precipitation and extreme weather events will continue into the next couple of decades because of climate change, he said.

A female mallard duck stands Thursday on a rock near the shore of Thompson Lake in Oxford. Ice-out date for the lake was March 15, the earliest ever recorded. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

People need to prepare and adapt to minimize the negative impacts of climate change, along with taking measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the worst of what could otherwise occur, he said.

If greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced, climate change can be slowed, he said. Otherwise, climate change will have a greater effect beyond the next couple of decades and for the rest of the century.

“The decisions we’re making now have a profound impact on the world that we will be living in and our grandchildren will be living in at that point in time,” he said.

Fernandez said he’s hopeful about the future when he sees more action being taken on climate change, with climate action plans, heat pump use, changed behaviors and other actions.

“Those all matter and they’re having a positive impact,” he said. “And so, I think being mindful of those and being informed about them and engaging in those is a very real reason to be hopeful that we can avoid the worst of what otherwise might be in our future.”

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