This summer’s drought and flooding may impact 2022 fall foliage

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Before you know it, trees will change colors, but summer was one of many extremes likely to affect our fall landscapes.

The drought conditions early in the summer could have a greater than expected impact on foliage, despite the heavy rains that followed.

“Sometimes when we’re in a drought situation but get rain, the water falls so hard and so fast that it doesn’t really recharge the soil like we might think. It actually drains much faster than it would normally if absorbed into the soil in a normal year, said Sam Lord, associate professor of soil science at the University of Missouri.

That means our trees may not have the same amount of water even though we’ve had historical rainfall.

“These trees can still be affected in fall foliage. Again, maybe shortened or the fall colors could be very abrupt. Maybe yellow to brown very quickly,” Lord said.

Soil composition varies widely in Missouri and soils have some capacity to handle water intrusion in a given amount of time.

“Sometimes when we have these large precipitation events, our soils become flooded very quickly and they reach that capacity very quickly, leading to runoff and then very quickly to a flash flood event,” he said.

Soil composition in urban areas has been manipulated over time, altering the soil’s ability to recharge as it has been reworked from its natural state.

“Either it’s been made into an impervious state like concrete or road or building, or it’s been reworked to the point where it just can’t handle the water anymore. For example, it’s been reworked to the point where the audio is on the surface and it doesn’t allow for that infiltration,” Lord said.

This increases the importance of green spaces in cities.

“It is all the more important how green space and sealed areas really interact with each other. When we have complete, monotonous concrete cityscapes, we remove that water from the landscape very quickly, not for it to seep into the ground, but instead it flows somewhere else to essentially pool and cause problems downstream for a lot of people,” he said .

And all of these factors combined with our current weather will ultimately shape the shades of the leaves this fall.

“We’ve seen slightly cooler temperatures overnight, but as this heat wave comes back and gets into the 90s, you might see the foliage really start to shrink depending on how long these high temperatures last,” Lord said. “Since you’re all not in significant drought right now, I’ll say you’ll have a reduced time but will still see some fall color from some of our maples and our oaks.” This summer’s drought and flooding may impact 2022 fall foliage

Sarah Y. Kim

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