Crowds of people cool off Saturday on the beach in Old Orchard Beach. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

July – the hottest month on record in Portland – sold out air conditioners, sent Mainers and visitors flocking to the beaches, and sparked concern about residents with health conditions susceptible to heat.

Portland averaged 73.7 degrees Fahrenheit during the month, 4.6 degrees above normal and 0.6 degrees above July 2019, the previous hottest month, according to the National Weather Service.

This July was “actually the warmest month that we’ve had on record,” said Chris Legro, a forecaster with the weather service office in Gray. Temperature records have been kept in Portland since November 1940.

The high temperature on some days topped 90 degrees, but the lows actually drove July’s inflated average, Legro said. On July 27, the temperature never dipped below 78 degrees – the highest low for that day on record.

Sustained heat can be a danger to older residents and those with health conditions worsened by hot weather, Legro pointed out.

“The real key is when we have these high daytime temperatures but it doesn’t cool off overnight,” he said. “That’s what tends to exacerbate health issues.”

Still, heat-related hospitalizations appear to be down, perhaps because the coronavirus pandemic is keeping people from emergency rooms. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that this July had seen only half as many heat-related emergency department visits as July 2019 – 101 versus 226.

“Some of the difference may also be related to fewer summer tourists, and an overall reduced use of emergency departments for care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rebecca Lincoln, a Maine CDC toxicologist who specializes in climate science. “Total emergency department visits for all reasons were significantly lower across the board in July 2020 than in July 2019.”

Emily Lewis 7, of Saco cools off under the shade of a tree with a lemon freeze at Garside’s Ice Cream in Saco with her dog Clark Kent on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mainers have been flocking to hardware stores to purchase air conditioning units, to the point where many area businesses are out of stock, said Phil Villandry of Maine Hardware in Portland.

“We’ve been sold out since the beginning of the week, and there’s none available to us now,” Villandry said Saturday afternoon. “As far as I know, we’re not going to get any.”

One customer recently called the St. John Street store looking for an AC unit, after trying a dozen other places, Villandry said. “As far as I know, no one has them,” he said.

“You better hope August isn’t as hot as July,” Villandry added, “because that’s going to be tough for elderly people and sick people who have breathing issues.”

Forecasts for the coming week show highs in the upper 70s and low 80s, with the exception of an expected 87-degree high Monday in Portland. Further into August, warm temperatures will continue, Legro said, but the weather service is “forecasting generally above normal precipitation – that’s good news.”

Precipitation was below average in July, which saw 2.39 inches in Portland – 1.22 inches below normal. Drought conditions have plagued communities close to the coast in York and Cumberland counties, up through the midcoast and inland to Interstate 95, Legro said. August could see some relief.

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