Weather Science

Rochester’s mild drought didn’t affect the fall foliage! How temperature and rainfall affect leaf colors.

Before you venture out apple picking this fall, be sure to have your camera on standby as the vibrant upstate New York foliage is predicted to be as spectacular as ever this year. Many Rochesterians were able to experience the beginning of the foliage season this weekend, especially apple pickers who flocked to festivals all over the area such as the 32nd annual Hilton Apple Fest held at Hilton Apple Fest Farm Market.
It has been a disappointing season for apple pickers this autumn due to the significant decrease in production. Although many apple farms have been at a loss of words with the notable decline in apples this year, people all over the region will be able to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn as peak hits this next week.

Some speculated that the dry conditions we have seen in Upstate New York will have a negative impact on the foliage this fall, however as you may have already noticed, that is far from the truth.

Map of the height of this summer’s drought, via the University of Nebraska’s Drought Watch

Over the past four months or so, upstate New York has been entrenched in a moderate drought, which has led to an increase in food prices and distraught flowers. Along with these impacts, many New Yorkers expressed their concern over the lack of vibrant colors they would see due to the drought. However, Donald Leopold, chairman of environmental and forest biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, explains that drought is not always bad for foliage: “Mild droughts are generally good for fall leaf color. It can enhance production of certain pigments in leaves that produce color”.

An example of the “scorching” that occurs in leaves when the environment is too hot and dry. Via

It’s common sense that trees need the necessary water and sunlight to survive: this beautiful concept is known as photosynthesis. But too much rain or sunlight throughout the spring and summer could have a negative impact on the health of the tree and more importantly, the leaves.
According to meteorologist David Epstein, an abundance of precipitation can encourage disease on the leaves, creating dull or bland colors. While not enough precipitation causes the leaves to dry up and fall early, not allowing for colorful leaves. Luckily, our moderate drought was not severe enough to have a negative affect on the foliage.

As for temperatures, colder temperatures, especially at night, breaks down chlorophyll in the leaves, exposing the red and orange pigments we are so accustomed to during autumn. On the other hand, warmer temperatures don’t allow for this breakdown in chlorophyll, creating delay in pigments and accordingly delay in foliage change.

Regions such as the Midwest have not been as lucky as we have this fall. A persistent severe drought has not only killed the economy of the Midwest but foliage is almost nonexistent this autumn, thanks to the drought. Rochesterians should cherish this falls’ colors, as you never know what next fall brings.

Rochester Science

Just how little rain fall have we had this summer? Is this a drought?

As much as people complain about the harsh winter weather (excluding of course, this past winter), we are truly spoiled by the summer months in Rochester. As fun as the festivals, celebrations, and concerts are, my favorite part of summertime has always been the thunder storms. There is just something about watching the sky grow darker, feeling the wind pick up around you, hearing the claps of thunder become louder, and seeing the faint glow of lightning in the distance turn into quick flashes and bolts.

This year, though, one main aspect of the summer thunderstorm has often been missing – the smell of rain. This lack of rain has done more than simply skimp out on thunderstorms; it’s also the culprit for the state’s 90-day ban on brush burning.

On average, Rochester typically receives 2.93 inches of rain during the month of July. Although we still have one week left in the month, 2012 totals are drastically lower, with our total rainfall for July 2012 currently only 0.35 inch, and only 3 days with rain so far this entire month.  Our situation this summer is not unique. According to meteorologist, Brad Rippey from MSNBC, this summer’s drought has hit more than half of the contiguous United States.

“This year’s high temperatures have certainly played into this drought. There’s a lot more evaporation and demands for water.”

So, what exactly is a drought? Well, by definition, it’s just what Mr. Rippey has described– a deficiency in water supply, whether above or underground, for an extended period of time.  This has affected Monroe County in several ways, from loss of crops (including pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms, if you can imagine thinking that far ahead), to a drastic increase in wild fires due to the combination of high heat and severe dryness, and even something known as “dairy heat stress” as a result of overheated cows producing less milk.

This sounds pretty intense – and it is – but never fear! According to Bob Morrison, Director of Water for the City of Rochester, this is only a moderate drought and although conditions may not be ideal, we are doing okay thanks to our lakes – which all currently have sufficient water levels.

“There is a point we could reach [where we would enter into conservation mode] but we’re doing very well right now, so that is not a concern for us. Right now, residents can keep on doing what they’re doing.”

So what are we, as Rochester residents in a moderate drought, to do? Keep living summer the way we would otherwise. Run through sprinklers. Wash your car in your driveway. Just don’t run around striking matches in fields of dead grass, and you’ll be just fine.