OKLAHOMA CITY - Summer-long drought conditions that have plagued Oklahoma and Arkansas have left in limbo the usual explosion of fall foliage colours that attract tourists to both states.
Trees in both the Ozark and the Ouachita national forests that spread into the two states typically provide a panorama of red, green and yellow leaves and are destinations for those seeking fall colours.
Foresters say those trees are shedding many of their leaves now — two months early.
"Basically, the number of hardwood trees going dormant or browning is noticeable in both the Ozark and Ouachita national forests, said U.S. National Forest spokeswoman Tracy Farley.
"I haven't heard anyone talk about having a spectacular fall," Farley said.
Rainfall now could change that outlook, according to both Farley and Craig Marquardt, an Oklahoma Forestry Services district forester in Talihina in southeastern Oklahoma. The Talimena National Scenic Byway stretches through the Ouachita forest from Mena, Ark., to Talihina.
More than 53 per cent of Arkansas was rated as in exceptional drought — the worst category — early in August, and 48 per cent of Oklahoma was in exceptional drought in late August, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Rainfall now "would be really beneficial. The trees could use a good drink of water," Marquardt said. "It'll be nothing but good for the trees."
The peak time for fall colour is generally the last week of October and the first week of November, a time that businesses in the region count on for an economic boost.
"When we're looking at October and November, that's when we're booked up full," said Dave Shaw, owner of Buffalo Creek Guest Ranch in Talihina.
"That's the only time of year when we're booked up full," Shaw said.
Shaw acknowledged that the drought's effect on the trees is a concern, but said he remains hopeful that weather conditions will turn more favourable.
"If we get a light frost early and we get a little moisture and we don't get any wind, that can overcome the drought."
Marquardt also expressed optimism, noting that last summer was drier and hotter than the current season.
"Last year was a really pretty year (for colour) and I was really surprised. Last year was drier than this year," Marquardt said.
The remnants of Hurricane Isaac, though largely missing Oklahoma, provided much needed moisture in the Arkansas portions of the two forests.
"The hardwood trees that have not gone dormant yet will greatly benefit from the rainfall," said Farley. "The colours may not be quite as vibrant, but there should still be some colour in the mountains this fall."