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Persistent drought will impact this Fall

September 16, 2012
Josh Moniz , The Journal

MINNESOTA The severity of the long persisting drought this year will have an impact in all kinds of aspects of life this Fall, even as far as impacting the way trees change color this year.

The current record-breaking drought has persisted since April. According to the National Climate Data Center, the duration and intensity of the drought event makes it the most severe in approximately 50 years. The drought has additionally proven to be very stubborn even in the face of occasional bouts of rainfall, which have failed to break the dry spells over many section of the Midwest.

The consequences of this historic situation have impact across all forms of life in Minnesota and the U.S. The drought both directly impacts areas like the agricultural sector and indirectly impacts other areas like the price of gas. Longer term, the impact of the drought will likely have a domino effect of further impacting a wide range of areas due to the consequences of the areas initially impacted.

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The impact of this year’s historic drought, which lasted the entire summer, will alter the way trees changes color this year. The lack of water due to the drought will rapidly accelerate the color change of leaves outside their peak color hue times, or simply turn them brown without a series of color changer.

In the more immediate impact, the drought has short changes harvests for farmers across the Midwest. For example, the U.S. has seen its lowest soybean harvest in nine years, according to Bloomberg. The effects of the low harvest will impact farmers both this year and in their spending power for next year.

On the larger scale, the significantly smaller crop yield will push of the prices of a wide variety of prices up for months to come. Food prices began spike as early as July and is expected to persist for months, according to the World Bank. Beyond consumable products, the drought's effects on corn will translate into the variety of products that now use corn byproducts, such as the ethanol mixed into gasoline. With the harvesting season soon departing, these cost increase will persist well into next year.

In the most visually dramatic impact of the drought, the very nature of the traditionally colorful fall colors of leaves on trees. Trees typically reach the peak point of their fall colors between the last week of October and the first week of November. The color change that occurs in trees during the fall is due the veins in the leaves closing off in anticipation of the shorter daylight hours of winter. The green color of leaves is created by water, light and carbon dioxide combining to chlorophyll. As the mixture in the leaves change in anticipation of falling off, the mixture produces different color hues when interacting with light.

The disruption of water to trees due to the summer drought changes both the timing and the nature of the leaf transformation. Reports across the country have already shown trees moving into their color changing phase this month. With reduced water, the vibrancy of the color change is impacted during the process. More commonly, the leaves will simply shift to brown color when they initiate their hibernation process. This leads to the elimination of leaves changing color all together, except over very brief moments.

Despite all the looming consequences of having a summer-long drought, there is positive news that relief could be comes for portions of the country in the coming months. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Minnesota and particularly southern Minnesota will be part of the Midwest anticipated to move into the improving condition ahead of November. However, there remains a significant moisture deficit to be made up for the extended dryness.

Other good news has also emerged that the drought will have limited or no impact all areas of Midwest life going into this Fall. DNR organization from Minnesota and the surrounding states anticipate the drought will not impact this year's hunting season. On more fun sides, the drought is anticipated to not affect the price of beer, since barley growing areas were less severely hit, according to the Craft Brewers Association.

Overall, the impact of this year's drought will likely persist until next Spring has a chance to make an impact. What remains to be seen is how extensively the drought will have second and third degree impacts going into this Fall.

(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at



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