Caribou, Maine's Record Long Snowpack, In Place Since November, Melts

Jonathan Erdman
Published: April 22, 2019

Caribou, Maine's record-long snow cover streak ended Monday morning after a meltdown of almost four feet of snow in about six weeks.

The official snow depth at the National Weather Service office in Caribou dropped to a trace Monday morning, their lowest snow depth since November 9, ending a record-long stretch of over five months with at least 1 inch of snow on the ground.

The previous record-long 1-inch-plus snow cover streak in Caribou was 155 straight days in the winter of 2002-2003.

Caribou actually picked up just over 6 inches of snow from April 8-10, pushing their snowpack to over 20 inches. Though not official, some snow depths around the NWS office were as much as 40 inches as recently as April 11.

But that would be their last snowy hurrah before the meltdown accelerated.

Temperatures rocketed into the 50s and low 60s on Palm Sunday weekend. Then, several weather systems dumped almost 3 inches of rain over northern Maine over the past week.

As a result, 27 inches of snow cover melted in Caribou in just the last 12 days.

Animation of estimated snow cover as analyzed by satellite from March 7, when snow depth was at its peak in northern Maine, through April 22, 2019, when the snow depth in Caribou dropped to only a trace. The highest snow depths are shown by the darker blue and purple contours.
(NOAA NOHRSC)

As you can imagine, this rapid melt of a deep snowpack led to some significant ice jam and river flooding in northern Maine, including the Aroostook River in Washburn, about 10 miles southwest of Caribou, depositing large chunks of river ice on one local road.

Buried in Early March

Spring looked like a distant hope at best just six weeks ago.

On March 7, Caribou had 45 inches of snow on the ground. Contrast the NWS webcam image below, taken on March 7, when the snow measuring stick only had about a foot exposed at the top, with the tweet embedded at the top of the article.

The epic amount of snow created surreal scenes at the NWS office, including a giant drift obscuring the view north of the office, massive piles around the parking lot and a back exit of the office buried after removing snow from the office's roof.

Incredibly, this snowpack was nowhere near an all-time, or even a March, record snow depth, there. Caribou once had a 62-inch snow depth on Feb. 22-23, 1977. Just a couple weeks later, they set their March record depth of 51 inches.

The water contained in the snowpack, though, did set a record. According to a snow survey taken in Monson, Maine, a whopping 14.45 inches of water was locked in the snowpack between Feb. 23 and March 8, a record for that time of year.

Imagine the flooding that would result from over 14 inches of rain in just a few weeks' time.

Just one week after the early-March snow depth peak, a thaw sending temperatures into the 40s led to a number of puddles in the NWS parking lot.

Caribou picked up 164.7 inches, just under 14 feet, of snow this season through April 21, their third snowiest season on record behind only the 2007-08 (197.8 inches) and the 1954-55 (181.1 inches) seasons.

Caribou averages 111.9 inches of snow each season and averages measurable snowfall from October 23 through April 25.

According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, 2019 has been the wettest start to any year through April 20 on record in Caribou.


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