While the Texas coast reels from a storm that has brought historic flooding to the region, much of Maine is experiencing the opposite problem: conditions that are far too dry.

The entire state of Maine was in drought from June 2016 through April, and the eastern half of Maine has been back in drought since July.

The drought-like conditions in the state have affected everything from backyard lawns and plants to some crops, but according to nursery and garden center officials in southern Maine, many homeowners may not even be aware of how dry it’s been.

“They still have the memory of the long, wet spring, so I’m not sure people are thinking about it,” said Sarah Thompson, outside saleswoman and communications coordinator for O’Donal’s Nursery in Gorham. “And temperatures have been cooler than average, too, so people don’t necessarily notice. Not as many customers are asking about drought conditions, so we’re really trying to remind people.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor map, which is updated weekly, showed eastern Maine entering drought conditions starting in late July. Abnormally dry to moderate conditions have continued along the eastern half of the state.

Abnormally dry conditions also extend into southeastern New Hampshire and Massachusetts. And farther west, about 82 percent of North Dakota, 76 percent of South Dakota and 70 percent of Montana are in some stage of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The monitor, which was started in 1999, is produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is based on measurements of climatic, hydrologic and soil conditions as well as impacts and observations from more than 350 contributors around the country.

Nicki Becker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said that while the state got plenty of rain earlier in the year, precipitation dried up in June, creating drought conditions by late July that have persisted since.

Portland, for example, saw 6.66 inches from June 1 through Aug. 27, 3.39 inches below normal, even though rainfall was above normal in August with 2.99 inches, or 0.34 inches above average. Augusta received 6.24 inches in that period, which is 3.53 inches below normal.

Year-to-date precipitation in Portland is above average, with 30.7 inches as of Aug. 27, compared to the average 29.74 inches that falls from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31. In Augusta, precipitation is a bit behind normal with 25.19 inches from Jan. 1 to Aug. 27, compared to 26.18 inches that normally falls during that period.

But rain is just one of the many factors, such as soil composition and river flow, that go into creating drought conditions, Becker said.

Tom Estabrook, vice president of Estabrook’s in Yarmouth, said property owners have been what he called “lackadaisical” after such a wet spring.

“I think people assumed they didn’t have to worry,” he said. “Even the rain we had last week sheeted off, which means it didn’t penetrate down into the subsoil.”

Without rain, consumers have been forced to water their lawns or plants themselves, which can be time-consuming but also costly, or to let them brown and wilt.

“We’ve certainly had some homeowners start to complain about water bills,” Estabrook said.

Thompson said O’Donal’s customers haven’t complained yet, but after last year, people have been asking more about water conservation.

“People are starting to ask more about rain barrels and soaker-style hoses and other methods of conserving water,” she said.

Phil Roberts at Broadway Gardens in South Portland said he’s heard from plenty of customers whose lawns are “pretty beat up,” but he hasn’t had as many complaints as last year, when Maine was experiencing more severe drought conditions.

“People started to panic a little last year,” he said. “But this is actually a great time for people to plan for next year. We’re trying to encourage people to use a seed that goes down deep into the soil and if we get some rain in the next three or four weeks, that will really help things next year.”

Estabrook said the moderate temperatures this summer are good for seeding as well. The more work that can be done this fall, the better homeowners will fare come next spring.

“There was a tremendous amount of damage from last summer’s drought,” he said. “I think people probably want to avoid a repeat of that.”

Becker, with the weather service, said the dry summer is a short-term phenomenon so far compared to last year’s drought, which persisted for nearly 10 months despite heavy rain last October. Some habitats, including Maine’s wild brook trout population, could take several years to recover from that. Dry conditions have affected Maine’s bee population, which in turn has affected crop pollination.

The drought-like conditions may actually benefit the apple crop because problematic bugs have stayed away. And the lack of rain hasn’t affected Maine’s blueberry harvest either.

Before last year, Maine hadn’t seen drought conditions in 14 years, although that lasted years, not months. Thousands of Maine residents saw their wells dry up.

That’s not likely to happen this year. Becker said the dry conditions could quickly disappear with a good rainfall and there are several chances of rain in the next week or two, including Thursday into Friday and Sunday into Labor Day.

She said while the dry conditions have been hard on gardeners, other outdoor enthusiasts are happy.

“When it rains people complain,” Becker said.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby contributed to this story.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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