PORTLAND, MAINE >> Northern New England's annual mucky ritual of mud season is underway and underfoot, staining carpets and ruining morning commutes down sodden dirt roads, but it will likely be much shorter than last year.
Mud season descends on Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont every spring, and as snow and frozen ground melt, playgrounds turn to muck and potholes crater through roads. Last year's mud season got off to a late start because of heavy snow cover and hung around into mid-May in some parts of the region.
Typically, mud season starts late in March, but this year's season has already been here for two weeks in much of the three states, and meteorologists say it will likely be brief.
The mild winter will result in less ground turning to mud, said Bob Marine, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine. Much of northern New England, which was still buried under snow at this time in 2015, has only trace snow on the ground or none at all. Portland has seen a little less than 4 feet of snow this winter after getting walloped by more than 7 1/2 feet by this time last year.
"Normally we're doing snow surveys over southern areas right now to determine how much snow is still on the ground," Marine said.
Hikers, joggers and all-terrain vehicle riders who are affected by trail closures typically bemoan mud season. In New Hampshire, most of the ATV trails around the state are currently closed. But the lack of a long mud season is perfectly fine for those trying to draw tourism dollars.
The Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce in North Conway, New Hampshire, has stopped calling this time of the year "Mud Season" and is promoting it under the "What's Your Adventure?" moniker, with ideas on shopping, foodie destinations and "50 Shades of Green" spring foliage.
"We are starting a seven-year campaign to change this mindset and develop the shoulder season as the perfect time to visit for millennials, Gen Xers and active boomers without children, since school is still in session during this time," said Janice Crawford, the chamber's executive director.
In Vermont, the early spring weather is more than two weeks ahead of a normal spring, and the weather is enticing people into the woods so they can get in some hiking, but officials say it's still too early.
"The hiking trails are thawing out fast, but that means they're going from snow and ice to mud," said Dave Hardy, the director of trail programs for the Green Mountain Club which oversees maintains almost 450 miles of hiking trails in Vermont. "At this point, it's a good day is to walk around on sidewalks."