Quarterly climate impacts and outlook for the Gulf of Maine Region: March 2021

Gulf of Maine region significant events – December 2020 to February 2021

Long Description

The image shows the map of the Gulf of Maine region. It highlights significant weather and climate events that occurred in the months of December 2020 to February 2021:

  • December and January were unusually warm with below-normal snowfall (represented by an icon representing warm temperatures).
  • Storms moved through the region frequently during February (represented by an icon for snow).

The text overlays a background map of the Gulf of Maine region described in this report, which includes: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts.

Drought conditions improved in most of the region during December; however, abnormal dryness lingered through January and February. See Regional Impacts for details.


December was mild, with two periods of unusual warmth. On December 1, temperatures were as high as 17°C (63°F) causing seven New Brunswick sites including Fredericton, Miramichi, and Oromocto to have their warmest December day on record. Caribou, ME, recorded its warmest high and low temperatures of any winter. Temperatures on December 25 were as high as 17.8°C (64.0°F). Fredericton and Oromocto had their warmest December day, a record that had just been set earlier in the month. Many places in the Maritimes, as well as Caribou, ME, saw their warmest Christmas on record. In fact, it was a green Christmas for most of the Maritimes, where a white Christmas is becoming rarer. This was the warmest December for several Maritimes sites including Halifax, N.S., and among the five warmest Decembers for most of the rest of the Maritimes and Caribou, ME. Three of Caribou's 10 warmest December days on record occurred this December. The month's warm temperatures led to snowfall deficits in many areas and contributed to a delay in the ski season in the Maritimes. There were two notable storms in December, a nor’easter that brought rain, snow, and gusty winds to the region from December 5 to 6 and a storm that dropped heavy snow on parts of New England from December 16 to 17. See Regional Impacts for details.


January was also unusually warm, particularly in Maine and the Maritimes. The North Cape, P.E.I., area recorded its warmest January on record. This January ranked among the five warmest on record for most Maritimes sites and Caribou, ME, and among the 10 warmest Januarys for Portland, ME. There were few significant storms in January, leading to drier-than-normal conditions and below-normal snowfall for many locations. Several New Brunswick and Nova Scotia sites had one of their 10 driest Januaries.


The Gulf of Maine region did not experience the record-setting cold conditions that the central U.S. and much of Canada saw as the polar jet stream plunged south during February. In fact, this February ranked among the 10 warmest on record for several Maritimes sites. However, the jet stream frequently steered storms through the Gulf of Maine region. For instance, a nor'easter brought heavy snow and strong winds to parts of the region from February 1 to 3, while a storm from February 7 to 8 dropped heavy snow on the Maritimes. See Regional Impacts for details.

This winter was the warmest on record for Fredericton and Moncton, N.B.; Halifax (Shearwater) area, N.S.; and Charlottetown, P.E.I. and among the warmest winters on record for many other locations in the Maritimes. In addition, Caribou, ME, had its third-warmest winter.

Regional climate overview - December 2020 to February 2021

Temperature: winter departure from normal

Map of temperature departure from normal, averaged over Dec 2020 to Feb 2021. Temperature normals are based on 1981 to 2010 data.
Long description

The map of winter temperature departure from normal shows that most of the region was warmer to much warmer than normal.

  • Northern New Brunswick was 4 to 5 degrees (Celsius) above normal.
  • Most of the rest of the Maritimes were 3 to 4 degrees (Celsius) above normal.
  • The northern half of Maine was 3 to 5 degrees (Celsius) above normal.
  • The rest of the New England States ranged from 1 to 3 degrees (Celsius) above normal.

The scale to the right defines the map colours. Red shades represent positive anomalies (above normal), to +5 °C and above. Blue shades represent negative anomalies (below normal), to -5 °C and below. White indicates near-normal conditions (+0.5 °C to -0.5 °C).

Winter (averaged over December, January, and February) was up to 5°C (9°F) warmer than normal. December was as much as 5°C (9°F) warmer than normal, with the warmest locations in the Maritimes and northern Maine. January temperatures were as much as 6°C (11°F) warmer than normal, with the warmest locations in New Brunswick and Maine. February temperatures ranged from 2°C (4°F) in western Maine to 4°C (7°F) above normal in Cape Breton, N.S.

Daily average temperature departure from normal during winter at Caribou, ME. Warmer-than-normal days are shaded red and colder-than-normal days are shaded blue.
Long description

The time series graph of daily average temperature departure from normal for the date during winter at Caribou, ME shows that most days in December, January, and the first week of February were well above normal, other than one cold spell in the third week of December. The rest of February had day-to-day variations both above and below normal.

Daily average temperature departure (°C) from normal during winter at Caribou, ME
Day of Month December 2020 January 2021 February 2021
1 16.8 1.8 0.8
2 10.9 2.8 6.3
3 5.4 2.4 11.2
4 7.8 6.7 6.6
5 6.2 7.9 5.1
6 4.2 7.5 6.7
7 1.4 7.9 2.1
8 2.5 6.6 -0.6
9 1.1 8.4 -4.3
10 2.4 4.1 -5.3
11 2.7 3.8 -4.1
12 4.6 9.8 -0.6
13 6.8 10.1 -1.1
14 4.8 11.0 -0.7
15 -3.6 11.3 -1.1
16 -9.4 9.7 2.6
17 -8.9 12.2 -2.3
18 -4.6 6.7 -4.2
19 -4.9 -0.5 -4.6
20 0.9 -1.3 0.8
21 9.7 -4.4 1.4
22 8.6 1.7 -0.2
23 2.4 4.2 7.2
24 8.7 4.7 8.6
25 19.7 6.3 0.7
26 13.2 7.9 -4.8
27 2.1 11.2 0.6
28 5.8 7.3 8.7
29 6.6 1.1  
30 2.3 -3.4  
31 8.1 -2.4  

Precipitation: winter percent of normal

Map of winter precipitation total as a percentage of the normal (Dec 2020 to Feb 2021). U.S. precipitation normals are based on 1981 to 2010 data. Canadian precipitation averages are based on 2002 to 2020 data.
Long description

The map of total precipitation as a percentage of the long-term average (totalled over December to January) shows precipitation anomalies varied across the region:

  • Areas of central and eastern New Brunswick were wetter than average (125 to 150% of average)
  • northwestern New Brunswick was near the average
  • Nova Scotia was generally somewhat wetter than average (110 to 125% of average)
  • Northern Maine and northern New Hampshire were drier than average
  • The rest of Maine, New Hampshire, and eastern Massachusetts were somewhat wetter than average or near average

The scale on the right shows above normal (110% of normal and above) in shades of green, below normal (90% of normal and less) in shades of brown, and near normal (90% to 110% of normal) in white.

Winter precipitation (accumulated from December to February) ranged from 50% of normal to 150% of normal. December precipitation ranged from 50% of normal to more than 200% of normal, with much of the region seeing near- or above-normal precipitation. Some New Brunswick sites had one of their 10 wettest Decembers on record. January was dry with precipitation ranging from 25% of normal to near normal for most areas. February precipitation ranged from 75% of normal in parts of New England to 200% of normal in northern Maine and the Maritimes. Ingonish Beach and Malay Falls, N.S., had their second-wettest February on record.

Sea surface temperatures: winter departure from normal

Map of sea surface temperature (SST) departure from normal (averaged over Dec 2020 to Feb 2021). SST normals are based on 1985 to 2014 data.
Long description

The map of sea-surface-temperature departure from normal, averaged over winter (December to February), shows that nearly all areas were much warmer than normal. The main text gives more details.

The scale to the right of the graph defines the map colours. Red shades represent positive anomalies (above normal), to +3 °C. Blue shades represent negative anomalies (below normal), to -3 °C. White indicates near-normal conditions (departures near 0 °C).

Sea surface temperatures over the entire Gulf of Maine were strongly above normal for the winter season. Anomalies were strongest over the Scotian Shelf at greater than 2.5°C (4.5°F) and the deeper basins of the western Gulf at greater than 2.0°C (3.6°F). Positive anomalies were less than 1.0°C (1.8°F) only along the extreme western edge of the Gulf. The Gulf's winter sea surface temperature ranked as the fourth warmest on record (since 1985).

Regional impacts – December 2020 to February 2021

Winter Conditions

From December 5 to 7, a rapidly intensifying nor’easter brought up to 102 mm (4 in.) of rain to eastern Massachusetts, southern New Brunswick, and parts of Nova Scotia and up to 38 cm (15 in.) of snow to northern New Brunswick and the rest of New England. Wind gusts of up to 109 km/h (68 mph) contributed to power outages across the region including around 230,000 customers in Maine—more than a quarter of the state. A storm from December 16 to 17 dropped up to 122 cm (48 in.) of snow in southern New Hampshire, up to 71 cm (28 in.) in southern Maine, and up to 41 cm (16 in.) in eastern Massachusetts, with snowfall rates of over 13 cm (5 in.) per hour. Concord, NH, had its all-time snowiest day on record and largest December snowstorm, while Portland, ME, and Boston, MA, had one of their 10 biggest December snowstorms. Parts of New England wrapped up December with above-normal snowfall due to the storm, with Concord having one of its 10 snowiest Decembers. However, much of the Maritimes saw below-normal December snowfall.

A storm from January 16 to 17 brought up to 38 cm (15 in.) of snow to northern parts of New Brunswick, Maine, and New Hampshire and up to 55 mm (2 in.) of rain to the rest of the region. Rain and melting snow led to flooding in some locations. With few storms and above-normal temperatures, January snowfall was below or much below normal for most areas. This January was among the 10 least snowy on record for Caribou, ME; Concord, NH; Saint John, N.B.; and Yarmouth, N.S. Little snow cover led to a slow start to the snowmobile season. Thin ice and open waterways created unsafe conditions for snowmobiling and ice fishing. The Saint John River in Fredericton, N.B., froze over on January 20, the second latest date since 1965, making the 2020 to 2021 open-water season the fourth-longest on record at the site. In early January, a lack of ice in the Bay of Chaleur, N.B., allowed hundreds of harp seals to drift unusually far into the bay. In late January, ice coverage in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was around 1.6%, the lowest in over 50 years of records.

From February 1 to 3, a nor’easter dropped up to 56 cm (22 in.) of snow on the region, with the greatest amounts in northeastern Massachusetts, while parts of Nova Scotia saw over 70 mm (3 in.) of rain. Wind gusts of up to 100 km/h (62 mph) led to power outages. Coastal flooding in Massachusetts inundated roads and low-lying areas and contributed to the partial collapse of three seasonal  homes. From February 7 to 8, a storm brought up to 50 cm (20 in.) of snow and strong winds to the Maritimes, closing schools and cancelling postal service. A storm from February 15 to 17 produced up to 15 mm (0.60 in.) of freezing rain, 10 cm (4 in.) of sleet, and 25 cm (10 in.) of snow in the region, creating hazardous travel conditions. With frequent storms, February snowfall was near or above normal for most areas, with Caribou, ME, having its 10th-snowiest February. In early February, the water equivalent of the snow pack in the Saint John River basin was only 28% of normal but that increased to 70% of normal by early March. Ice coverage in the Gulf of St Lawrence was around six weeks behind normal by late February. The lack of ice can lead to shoreline erosion, damage to the fisheries, more seals on shore, and dangerous ice fishing conditions.

Winter percent of normal snowfall
Long description

The map of snowfall as a percentage of normal (totalled over December to February) shows a wide variation across the region.

  • amounts over most of the Maritimes and southeastern Maine were less than normal (50% to 75% of normal).
  • amounts over parts of northern Maine and northeastern New Brunswick were near normal.
  • amounts over southern New Hampshire and the eastern half of Massachusetts ranged from near normal to well-above normal.

The scale below the graph shows above normal (110% of normal and above) in shades of green, below normal (90% of normal and less) in shades of brown, and near normal (90% to 110% of normal) in white.

Winter snowfall ranged from 25% of normal in Cape Breton, N.S., to 175% of normal in western New Hampshire (map above).

Drought Conditions

North American Drought Monitor from February 28, 2021.

Long description

The drought map for the end of February shows no areas of drought or of abnormally dry conditions over most of the region. There is a small area of moderate drought over New Hampshire. There are small areas of abnormally dry conditions (category D0) over central Nova Scotia, western Prince Edward Island, parts of Cape Breton, and southern and western Maine and New Hampshire.

Wetter-than-normal weather during December eased drought conditions in all parts of the region except New Hampshire. Areas of abnormal dryness were reduced but persisted throughout the region, except in Massachusetts. During January, there was little change in conditions. With below-normal precipitation, moderate drought lingered in New Hampshire and abnormal dryness lingered, and even expanded slightly, in the rest of the region. During February, dry conditions improved in parts of the Maritimes but were unchanged in New England. As of late February, dryness persisted in parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I.

2020 Warmth

2020 ranked among the hottest years on record for the Maritimes and among the five hottest on record for Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. In fact, Portland, ME, had its hottest year, while Caribou, ME, had its second hottest and Yarmouth, N.S., had its third hottest. The year was among the 10 hottest on record for several other sites including Concord, NH; Boston, MA; Halifax, N.S.; Fredericton, N.B.; and Charlottetown, P.E.I. In addition, 2020 ranked among the hottest years on record for the globe. Ocean temperatures were also exceptionally warm, with the 2020 global sea surface temperature ranking as third hottest and the 2020 Northern Hemisphere ocean temperature ranking as hottest on record. These warm ocean temperatures contributed to a record-setting 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Deep-water temperatures in the Gulf of St. Lawrence reached their highest temperatures since records started in 1915, which will likely have implications for the ecosystem.

World map plotted with colour blocks depicting percentiles of average land and ocean temperatures for the full year of 2020. Source: National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Long description

A world map plotted with color blocks depicting percentiles of average land and ocean temperatures for the year 2020. Colour blocks depict increasing warmth, from dark blue (record-coldest area) to dark red (record-warmest area) and spanning areas in between that were "much cooler than average" through "much warmer than average".

The map shows much warmer than average conditions over a very broad area over eastern Canada, the eastern U.S., and the central North Atlantic. In the Northern Hemisphere, only parts of the northern North Atlantic were cooler than average. Large areas of northern Europe and northern Asia were record warm. Much of the Southern Hemisphere was also warmer or much warmer than average. Some areas of the South Pacific and some areas of the southern Indian Ocean were near average.

Regional outlook – spring 2021

Temperature and precipitation

Maps of forecast probability of temperature above, below, and near normal for March to May 2021. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) temperature map (left) produced Feb. 18. ECCC temperature map (right) produced Feb. 28.
Long description

The temperature outlook maps show that both the U.C. Climate Prediction Center and ECCC are predicting a warmer than normal spring.

  • For New Brunswick, the probabilities of above-normal temperatures are 40 to 60%.
  • For the rest of the Maritimes, the probabilities are generally higher, ranging from 50 to 90%.
  • For the New England states the probabilities are generally 33 to 40%.

For March to May, NOAA's Climate Prediction Center (CPC)  and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) favor above-normal temperatures for the entire region. CPC predicts an increased likelihood of above-normal precipitation for northern New Hampshire and much of Maine, while ECCC favors below-normal precipitation for most of New Brunswick, western/northern Nova Scotia, and western P.E.I. Equal chances of below-, near-, or above-normal precipitation are forecast for the rest of the region. With an increased likelihood of wetter-than-normal conditions for the rest of March and April–June, easing of drought conditions is expected in New Hampshire.

Spring Flood Potential

NOAA indicates the flood risk during spring is near normal for most of New England and below normal for parts of New Hampshire and Maine where dry conditions exist.  The ice jam flooding potential is also below normal or near normal. Very heavy rain can cause flooding at any time of the year, even in areas that have little to no snow cover.

New Brunswick's River Watch program, which monitors water levels along the St. John River and its tributaries, launched on March 10.

La Niña

Early March 2021 official probabilistic El Niño Southern Oscillation (EÑSO) forecasts, issued by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society.
Long description

The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) March forecast chart issued in early March shows a transition from La Nina conditions to a 60% probability of ENSO-neutral conditions for the Apr-May-Jun period.

The time series graph shows the forecast probabilities of El Niño, La Niña, and Neutral conditions through the next 12 months, as well as the climatological probabilities.

Vertical bars represent the forecast probabilities. Lines represent the climatological probabilities. The colours blue, grey, and red, represent La Niña, Neutral, and El Niño conditions, respectively. Each bar represents probabilities over 3 months. Each interval overlaps by 2 months.

The table below gives the forecast probabilities of La Niña, Neutral, and El Niño conditions for each 3-month interval shown in the chart.

CPC/IRI Official Probabilistic ENSO Forecasts

Season La Niña Neutral El Niño
FMA 2021 98% 2% 0%
MAM 2021 59% 41% 0%
AMJ 2021 38% 62% 0%
MJJ 2021 32% 66% 2%
JJA 2021 34% 59% 7%
JAS 2021 39% 52% 9%
ASO 2021 44% 46% 10%
SON 2021 48% 42% 10%
OND 2021 51% 38% 11%

The climatological probabilities of La Niña, Neutral, and El Niño conditions (solid lines) are as follows:

  • La Niña: about 25% in the spring and summer and 30% in the fall and winter
  • Neutral: about 55% in spring, 50% in summer, 40% in the fall, and 30 to 40% in the winter
  • El Niño: about 20% in the spring, 25% in the summer, 30% in the fall, and 35% in the winter

During February, La Niña conditions continued in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. NOAA's Climate Prediction Center indicates there is around a 60% chance La Niña conditions will transition to ENSO-neutral conditions during spring, with ENSO-neutral conditions likely continuing through summer.


Environment and Climate Change Canada
Email : ec.enviroinfo.ec@canada.ca

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Northeast Regional Climate Center

Name: Ellen Mecray
Email: Ellen.L.Mecray@noaa.gov

Name: Samantha Borisoff
Email: sgh58@cornell.edu

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