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Rain not likely to help foliage forecast

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 | 9:00 p.m. CDT; updated 5:12 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
A few yellow leaves can be seen in this tree in Nifong Park in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — After a long wait, rain finally fell on Columbia on Tuesday. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t enough to change the drab forecast for this fall’s foliage or help pull Boone County out of a moderate drought.

As of 9 p.m. Tuesday, 0.54 inches had been collected at Sanborn Field. The forecast for the rest of the week doesn’t promise much more.

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Even if Boone County sees a little bit more rain during the next two weeks, it’s unlikely that the chance of seeing vibrant, colorful leaves this fall will improve because of all the warm, dry weather the area’s had over the past few months.

“If we get one rain today, it’s not really going to have an effect,” said Josh Stevens, a resource forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “What we need is ample weekly sustained rainfall. Basically prolonged rain.”

The best conditions for those vivid orange, red and purple leaves is a mild, late-summer drought followed by sunny days and cool weather, said MU forestry professor Steve Pallardy. Daily temperatures need to have highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s.

Because Columbia and the surrounding areas are already down 8 inches on yearly precipitation, the trees in the area are stressed. The rule of thumb, Pallardy said, is that one inch of rain means wet soil 4 inches deep. For the foliage forecast to change, he said the trees would need a couple of inches of rain at least.

That’s why one quick shower, like the one early Tuesday afternoon, won’t change things.

“It’s just not enough to do that,” Pallardy said. “Every little bit helps ... but in terms of the long-term impact, it’s very small.”

Like the summer, the prolonged fall forecast is expected to be warm and dry, said Tony Lupo, an associate professor of atmospheric science at MU. Lupo said that because of La Niña weather patterns, or cold sea surface water in the Pacific Ocean, Missouri is also likely to move into a warm winter.

“There’s a chance the temperature’s going to be warmer than normal in the next three months,” said James Kramper, warning coordinator meteorologist for the National Weather Service's St. Louis office. “But precipitation could go either way.”

While Columbia might not be able to host colorful leaves in its own backyard this year, not all hope is lost at seeing some. The best place to enjoy foliage, Pallardy said, would be the hilly area near the Missouri River, which offers better views to see whatever color there may be in the distance.

“Just keep your fingers crossed for rain,” he said.


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