Dry weather patterns will hurt classic fall

Declining rainfall since 2007 and a dry summer means the classic Wilton fall with vibrant colored leaves and bushels of fresh harvest fruits and vegetables will run shy of expectations this year.

Through the end of August, a total of 24.76 inches of rain fell on the region, according to data provided by Aquarion Co., the Bridgeport-based water supply for much of Fairfield County.

That compares to 37.75 inches in 2007, after which the numbers declined each year, except for an anomaly in 2011 in which the rainfall shot up to 42.74 inches by August, for a total of 59.22 inches in a year, the most annually in a long time.

This means it’s a time of water conservation.

“We continue to ask customers, throughout all of our Connecticut water systems, to voluntarily limit lawn watering to a maximum of twice a week. This applies to irrigation systems, hose-end sprinklers, and soaker hoses. Use of a hand-held hoses for watering is acceptable at any time,” said Peter Fazekas, spokesman for Aquarion.

Water usage throughout the summer has been very high. With limited rainfall expected over the next several weeks, Aquarion is asking customers to reduce water usage as we move into fall, Fazekas said.

Fall colors

The vibrant colors of fall come from well-hydrated trees, said Carol D. Quish, horticulturist with the UConn Home and Garden Education Center in Storrs.

“The areas where drought is more severe will have duller colors and a shortened season,” Quish said.

Instead of maximum leaf fall by Halloween, it could be sooner.

“With more water in their cells, the leaf stems tend to take longer to dry and drop,” Quish said.

She could not predict exactly when the Wilton foliage would peak though.

“Predicting the fall foliage display is a bit like predicting weather and it is not always correct,” she said.

There is an upside to the bad news about the region’s dry weather, though. It means the population of potentially dangerous mosquitoes and ticks is being held down, said Philip M. Armstrong, a virologist and medical entomologist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.

“Mosquitoes require water for their development, the larvae are in pools of water to develop, so in general, you can make gross generalizations, but it’s important to remember we have 50 different species of mosquitoes and have a somewhat different relationship to water. Most of them do well with abundant rainwater and temporary pools where their larvae develop,” Armstrong said.

“They breed in woodland pools and depressions. There tend to be greater numbers a couple of weeks after a significant rainfall event. So the number of those floodwater mosquitoes are actually down. We have other mosquitoes that are breeding in saltmarsh habitats, and they are affected by the high tides, the lunar tides, that create saltmarshes. On the coast, those numbers are way up this year. The species that transmits West Nile is in underground storm drains and catch basins, where rainfall followed by drought creates stagnant pools, so there are more of those after a hot dry spell. Most mosquitoes tend to do better after heavy rainfall.”

The ticks are also down. They survive best with a snowy winter and wet summer, because they hide under the blanket of snow and thrive in humid conditions.

“So with ticks, the main factor is humidity. If conditions are really dry, they don’t survive as well,” Armstrong said.

Dry weather has also had an effect on crops growing in the local fields, like Ambler Farm, which runs a farm stand on Saturdays and participates in the Wilton Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays.

There, farmer Jonathan Kirschner said the dry weather has been a mixed bag.

"The dry weather has certainly affected many of our crops,” he said. “We are relying on irrigation to keep whatever crops we transplant alive and trying to direct seed other crops to more reliably acclimate them to the current conditions.

But, Kirschner added, there has also been a positive effect.

“In contrast, the dry weather has enhanced the sweetness of our peppers and tomatoes so I would say that it has had mixed effects as the weather often does."