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October 5, 2011 / Dave Gorham

After A Painfully Record-Breaking Summer, Fall Colors Might Not Be As Pretty…

It was a long, hot summer here in Texas and I couldn’t be happier about the cooler weather finally settling in over the area. Technically, it’s not exactly cool weather per-se, but when temperatures go from being 10 degrees above average to about average for this time of year (in the mid 80’s for highs) I would certainly say it’s welcomed relief.

 Precipitation Outlook for October, 2011. Image: ImpactWeather StormWatch

As of today we are still almost 30 inches below average in rainfall for the year and it doesn’t look like conditions will improve anytime soon. La Niña conditions typically signal drier than normal weather and this will be the case over most of the Deep South through October as drier than normal weather dominates from central and east Texas eastward to the western Carolinas.

Most of Texas and parts of OK, KA and NM are in an exceptional drought, which is the highest drought category. A good portion of GA into eastern AL and western SC are in an extreme drought. Image: U.S. Drought Monitor

With the ongoing drought and the record breaking heat we’ve had all summer long, the colors of fall might not be as picturesque this year compared to previous years. There are three things that greatly influence the colors of leaves: temperature, sunlight and soil moisture. As the days get shorter, the amount of sunlight decreases which reduces the process in the leaves known as photosynthesis. Chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color, is reduced as temperatures get cooler and leaves start taking on their beautiful fall colors. Fall foliage will certainly be impacted this year across drought-stricken areas as leaves are expected to turn and fall before they have a chance to develop their brilliant colors.

 Photosynthesis is the process by which plants turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose. Image: sciencemadesimple.com

After the extreme heat, wildfires and the ongoing drought across most of Texas, the colors of fall probably won’t be as spectacular this year. For instance, in Abilene, November is the peak month for fall foliage, but this year we could see leaves turning and falling earlier. In East Texas about 100 miles east of Dallas, there have been some reports of oak trees already turning brown. More importantly, the eight-county area surrounding the Houston area faces the loss of 10 percent of its 660 million trees. Forget the fall foliage; there are trees at stake across the entire state. The City of Houston alone needs $4.5 million in tax dollars to remove 15,000 trees from city parks and esplanades that have died due to the lack of rain this year. The fall foliage here in Texas won’t be anything to brag about this year, but most importantly, hopefully we’ll get measurable rain before more trees die.

 Dead trees are falling in Houston’s Memorial Park. Photo: Houston Chronicle

On a brighter note, not all of us will have a dull fall as beautiful fall colors continue to explode from Maine to Pennsylvania. Check out where the best foliage is already (see below).

 Areas indicated in red are at their peak. Image: yankeefoliage.com

  Fall foliage is at its peak across parts of Vermont. Image: www.foliage-vermont.com

 Fall foliage this year in Vermont. Photo: vermontfallfoliage.com

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