This map shows that average high temperatures in July for most of Maine have risen between .5 and 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 30 years. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

Summer was hot, I remember, back in the long-ago days when I lived on Munjoy Hill in Portland. My walk to work took me along the undulating brick sidewalk of Congress Street, past the fire station and Observatory, downhill past the Eastern Cemetery on the left and the hot and steamy Stardust Lounge on the right. I went left on India Street, past Amato’s original store and Micucci’s grocery, then right on Middle Street, taking in the rust-color wall and the biting smokey stench of the Jordan’s meat plant.

I climbed the steep, creaking wooden stairs to the second and third floors at 163 Middle St., where some 40 years ago I ran the Portland City Directory’s summer canvassing operation at Tower Publishing. On most days, I got there before 8 a.m. to get things ready for the canvassers who would soon file in to collect the day’s cards and drive off to foggy neighborhoods in Back Bay, or mosquito-infested ones in Scarborough, or heat-quiet suburban streets in South Portland. There, they’d knock on doors and compile the lists that would be sold to businesses, and that would be invaluable to ambulances, cops and historians.

So much for the remembrance of things past — this is about the weather. Steve Koelker and I would keep track of conditions on hot days and send our college kids and feisty old codgers with clipboards home when it looked there’d be too much heat or humidity.

The first gauge took place while I walked down the hill on Congress Street: the time and temperature sign atop the Chapman Building. If the temperature was in the mid-60s at 8 a.m., it was going to be a hot one. On rare days the sign registered 70 before 8 a.m. Those mornings we started talking about shortening the day or calling off the canvassing all together.

I remember 70 before 8 o’clock happening only a handful of times over about a dozen summers. Maybe it was more frequent, but not according to my memory. Portland Savings Bank ran a contest to guess the first day the sign registered 90, and one year no one won, because it never hit 90.

Already this year, even here in the woods of Waldo County, we’ve had 70 before 8 at least six times. It also happened a number of times last summer. In June, one of the Portland TV meteorologists tweeted: “You know what’s disturbing? We are beating monthly temperature records that were set when the thermometer was on top of a black roof in the middle of the city.”

I couldn’t get him to clarify exactly why this is “disturbing,” but I assume it has something to do with the jaws of climate change slowly closing around us.

We’ve seen the unmistakable signs for a while now. There were record high temperatures in the Northeast last month; also, new records in the Northwest and elsewhere. Portland, Oregon, shattered its previous peak and saw the mercury rise to 116 F on June 28; in Seattle it reached 108, topping the 103-degree record set the day before. On June 29, British Columbia sweltered through Canada’s highest recorded temperature ever — 121 degrees.

Closer to home, in Maine, June’s mean temperature was 68.9, nearly two degrees higher than the previous record. On June 29, Augusta saw a record-warm low of 72 (meaning it was 70 before eight all night.)

Temperatures in parts of Siberia above the Arctic Circle have gone well above 100. Meanwhile, 2020 was the second-warmest year ever recorded for Earth, just behind 2016.

I started wondering how often I’ve noted “record highs” in the past few years. Here are a few examples, going back to 2014:

2021

Backyard Naturalist, May 13, 2021: Temperatures in the last 10 years are markedly higher than any time in recorded history.

2020

Backyard Naturalist, Sept. 24, 2020: This summer was the hottest on record for the Northern Hemisphere. Portland recorded its warmest summer on record. Caribou had its warmest summer ever. Bangor had its third-warmest summer ever.

July 30, 2020: Each of the first five months of 2020 was either the warmest or second-warmest on record for the U.S. On July 27, Portland had its highest low temperature ever recorded, 78. Siberia was undergoing record-breaking heat for the second summer in a row.

Jan. 23, 2020: 2019 was the second-warmest year ever recorded for Earth, just behind 2016. Australia recorded its highest average temperature ever in 2019.

2019

Backyard Naturalist, Aug. 22, 2019: July’s average temperature was the highest ever recorded in Maine. Globally, July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. In Alaska, July 6 was the warmest day ever recorded. On July 15, San Francisco reached its highest temperature ever recorded for June, July or August — 100 degrees. On June 10, New Delhi, India, the mercury jumped to a record-setting 118.4.

May 23, 2019: For the January-through-April period, this year was the third-hottest on record globally.

2018

Backyard Naturalist, Oct. 25, 2018: This summer tied with the summer of 2016 for the warmest on record for Maine. Maine’s summer of 2018 was the most humid ever recorded.

July 26, 2018: Portland recorded its hottest July 4 ever, 93, breaking the 2010 record of 90. May was the warmest ever recorded for the lower 48 states. More than 220 heat records were broken in the U.S. during early July. Upwards of 450 places in the U.S. had their warmest-ever low temperatures for certain days. On June 29, the world’s highest low temperature ever recorded, 109, occurred in Quriyat, Oman.

2017

Backyard Naturalist, Sept. 14, 2017: Death Valley, California, averaged 107.4 degrees in July, the hottest month ever recorded in the U.S. The temperature in Seattle topped 100 for the third time in recorded history. The second time was in 2009.

Feb. 9, 2017: In 2016, Earth’s average surface temperature was the hottest on record.

2016

March 10, 2016: 2015 was the warmest year on record for Earth. Before that it was 2014. Since 1998, 15 years have tied or set global heat records.

2014

Backyard Naturalist, Nov. 27, 2014: This past summer was the hottest ever measured on Earth.

This omits mention of record-setting droughts, wildfires, rising sea levels, and increasingly severe storms, all prompted by the warming atmosphere.

The warming is directly attributable to the fumes and exhaust that we pump into the Earth’s atmosphere, amounting to 40 billion tons of CO2 a year. The heat that is trapped in the process is disrupting the climate. The chilly July 4th that followed last week’s heat is part of the disruption. Who believes this or doesn’t believe it makes no jot of difference. It’s happening.

What will make a difference is what we do in the next five to 10 years to curb new records.

Forty years from now, the door-to-door canvassing we used to do might no longer be an option during Portland’s summers.

Dana Wilde lives in Troy. You can contact him at [email protected]. His book “A Backyard Book of Spiders in Maine” is available from North Country Press. Backyard Naturalist appears on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.

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