Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Unseasonable Heat..."

Yesterday afternoon walnut leaves were yellowing and falling off the tree above me in the Central Ozarks. This, in May. A long mailing list received a note from Springfield NOAA warning us about the potential for fire May. Fuel moisture is exceedingly low now throughout the Ozarks, and several wildfires have already been reported. I overheard a lifetime resident of the Ozarks compare this weather to May 1980 when a drought set in so early in the summer that crown fires burned in deciduous woodlands, much like in Western fuel models. The canopy was so dry that many acres burned that year. Meramec Vineyards also reports no rain (though forecast for Memorial Day) and in Phyllis' biweekly emails she also says this strange weather reminds her of the early 1980s:
RAIN RAIN - That's what's on our mind. Yes we need rain. We've been quite a stretch without a decent rain. So far the vineyard is not in stress. BUT... the ground is dry and ground moisture is gone. Part of our vineyard is irrigated. That's the "new" vineyard. Except for the first few years when we were establishing the young plants, we haven't used our irrigation. We are set to turn on the irrigation on the Seyval, Stark Star and Norton vineyards. We'll check on the Vignoles and Vidal, too. The older vineyard blocks, including the Concords planted in 1921, have never had irrigation. Yet, we have never lost a crop to drought. (Freeze, hail, oh yeah, but not lack of rain.) Back in the early 1980's we had two years back to back with little rain. The vines began to stress (leaves that cup and curl is the sign of severe lack of water stress). But the rains came and the vines were able to ripen the crop. It took the vines about two years after the second year of lack of rain to recover their full vitality. An old timer told me that they had never lost a crop to lack of rain. His memory (through his father and grandfather) went back to when the vineyard was planted in 1921. But the climate has changed. This has been a strange year. The winter was warm and dry. Spring came early. If we don't get a Texas summer of days of 100+ degrees and we get rain, we should be harvesting about three weeks earlier than last year. That's a lot of ifs. Meanwhile, it looks like the next chance we have for rain is Monday, the 28th. O.K. so it's Memorial Day. Remember us grape farmers when you bring your picnic inside. No grumbling.

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