Gloomy May hinders tourism in New England

By Beverley Wang
Published May 26, 2005 12:00PM (EDT)

A nor'easter pounded Hampton Beach this week, turning the summer playground's honky-tonk strip into a ghost town with sand and foam blowing down the empty street.

Signs advertising fried dough pointed to shuttered stands. Almost every hot dog, fried clam, ice cream and taffy shop on the beach remained closed in one of the dreariest recorded run-ups to New England's summer tourist season.

More than 4 inches of rain have fallen this month in Portland, Maine, with more than 2 inches in Concord, N.H., exceeding normal amounts. Average temperatures this month were about 5 degrees below normal in both places, according to the National Weather Service. Burlington, Vt.'s Memorial Day forecast called for a 40 percent chance of rain with a high of 70.

Stormy weather also was being blamed for a massive bloom of toxic red tide along much of New England's coast, closing shellfish beds. It seemed the only people pleased with the weather were surfers, who donned hooded wet suits to catch waves churned up by the wind.

''We know there's potential of getting surf, that's the only reason we enjoy crappy weather," said Hampton surfer Steve Rafferty, 24.

The National Weather service on Wednesday posted hazardous weather, wind and flood watches for Maine and New Hampshire and predicted little chance of sunshine for Northern New England during the Memorial Day weekend.

High temperatures for Memorial Day were not expected hit much higher than 70 in the three states, close to normal for this time of year. But a month of overcast, wet weekends brought on by lingering low pressure has few people thinking good thoughts about vacations, and businesses dependent on tourists' cash are on notice.

''I think it's going to put the whole summer behind," said Robert R. Preston, whose family real estate company specializes in beach rentals in Seabrook and Hampton.

Repeat vacationers aren't likely to cancel their plans, but he predicted business would see fewer daytrippers and spur-of-the-moment tourists.

''If the weather was nice the phone would have started ringing this week, but we're just not getting it," he said. ''If the sun comes up, we'll catch up real fast."

Plenty of rooms are available in the Kennebunkport, Maine, area with the wet and cold weather putting a damper on the number of tourists expected for the Memorial Day weekend, said Dick Leeman, president and CEO of the Kennebunk/Kennebunkport Chamber of Commerce.

Bookings are running about the same as last year at this time, he said, when the weather was also cold and wet. But he said the outlook for tourism-related businesses is good for July and August, the peak tourist months.

The rain actually makes it easier to paddle in Vermont's Mad River, a popular canoe and kayak destination, but it discourages people from venturing outside, said Guy Dedell of Clearwater Sports in Waitsfield.

''We won't do as well this weekend because every weekend's been rainy and people are just getting tired about it," he said.

In Maine and Vermont, state parks reported overall campground reservations were up from last year, but spokesmen from both states acknowledged recent days of rain had prompted some Memorial Day cancellations.

''I can't help but think it's the weather," said Larry Simino, Vermont parks director. ''Stick with your reservation. Just think of how many times the weather man is wrong."

The dreary weather is also discouraging to people who didn't plan to venture far from home this weekend.

Rosemarie Glynn, of York, Maine, said she'd like to get out in the garden, ''but it's a little too wet for me and a little too cold."

Gardeners throughout the region worry their gardens will drown -- the lack of sun and abundance of rain has stunted seedlings' growth and threatens to rot seeds before they sprout.

Glynn is worried about her pea plants.

''They all started coming up just before the rain started so the peas are up about 5 inches, but they're kind of stagnant because there's no sun whatsoever," she said.

''At the Fourth of July people want to serve their peas, that's the tradition here in New England -- certainly ours won't be ready."

Beverley Wang

MORE FROM Beverley Wang

Related Topics ------------------------------------------