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Winter in Portland, Maine (how bad is it?)

After hearing this question quite a few times, I’m writing a quick post on winter in Portland, Maine. If you’re considering moving to Portland, this is likely to be one of your top concerns (besides a job), especially if you are moving from a warmer part of the country.

I want to set the foundation that the “badness” of the weather is relative to the individual. Therefore, I’m going to do my best to offer some advice. A little bit about me (to set context for the rest of the post):

  • I grew up in Eastern Maine. Yes, winters are much colder up there compared to Southern Maine.
  • I lived in Boston for three years.
  • Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to spend Winter months in Nashville and Austin, TX (~6 months over a span of 2 years). Put simply, I know what a winter in the South is like.

I’d like to think that this range of experience can help me provide some advice on the topic of winter in Maine. Ok, with this out of the way, let’s dive into some of the details. This post will be somewhat unstructured because that’s how I think…

The most miserable winter of my life was in Boston, not Portland.

The last winter my wife and I lived in Boston, we had the pleasure of experiencing a record-breaking Winter in terms of snowfall (and misery). I learned some super important lessons during this time.

  1. People in Boston get REALLY miserable when it snows.
  2. There is NO place to put the snow (besides throwing it on your neighbor’s vehicle)
  3. The city is woefully unprepared.
  4. Two-way roads turn into one-lane roads.
  5. the MBTA is a joke

What I found fascinating about that Boston winter was that I’ve experienced times in the past that compare (or surpass) the amount of snow Boston got that year. The major difference is how people in the area deal with the snow. For example, in Portland, people expect that it will snow in the Winter. This mindset change/readiness has a huge impact on the quality of life in the Winter.

Why am I telling this story? The sheer amount of snowfall or temperature is not an accurate benchmark.

In Boston, people would ask me, “you’re from Maine, how do you deal with all the snow?” I found this to be comical as friends/coworkers sat stuck on the bus for hours trying to get home (and if you wanted to walk home you’d walk on ice or in slush). This was something I never had to deal with in the past.

Put simply, Portland crushes Boston in how we deal with the snow. It’s no contest.

Portland vs. Boston Winter vs. Elsewhere

With that being said, Winter IS longer in Portland compared to Boston. From my perspective, I’d say Portland is 2-4 weeks behind Boston in terms of weather. If there are Spring flowers popping up in Boston, expect it a few weeks later in Portland. Whenever I check the weather for Portland compared to Boston, there’s about 7-10 degrees difference. Keep in mind, this is also true in the Summer 🙂

This past winter I stayed February and March in Nashville, and it’s was almost as cold as Portland (I checked daily). The major difference is the snow accumulation. Oh, and the fact that people don’t know how to drive in snow in the South.

You need a Winter hobby

I’d say Winter (on average) runs from the end of December until the middle of March. March is the worst month in my opinion (lots of Mainers will go to Florida or somewhere warm for a week, which is a good idea). Therefore, you need a freaking hobby during the winter or you will go crazy.

For example, you could:

  1. Ski/Snowboard (Sunday RiverSugarloafShawnee Peak). There’s a millennial deal for $499/year.
  2. Cross-country Ski (there’s a ton of trails in the Portland area, and it’s much cheaper compared to hitting up the slopes).
  3. Ice fish
  4. Snowshoe
  5. Snowmobile (you may think it’s trashy, but it’s super fun so don’t judge)
  6. Knit
  7. Do donuts in parking lots.

Vehicle Tips

From what I can tell, this is where people get in the most trouble, and it can be prevented easily.

  1. I strongly recommend getting studded snow tires. Yes, it costs money. Yes, it’s much better than regular tires (you could probably get away with all-seasons).
  2. Drive slower in the snow – this isn’t rocket science. Give yourself more time and you will be fine.
  3. I own a tiny car and I wouldn’t recommend it. By far, the most popular vehicle in Portland is a Subaru (for good reason). Any SUV should be fine.
  4. Store basic things in the vehicle. Buy a shovel, ice scraper, gloves etc.

In Conclusion

Get decent clothing and you should be fine. Also, it’s easier to add layers in the Winter vs. in the Summer when it’s hot and there’s nothing you can do to cool yourself down. I hope this post was helpful – if you have any questions, please ask. I’d be happy to help.

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