A drought can be defined as an extended period of time without rain or snow in a region. A flash drought extends over a period of a few weeks. A full drought occurs over a longer period and the lack of rain starts to affect the water supply. Winter droughts do happen in America, snow droughts in particular. These are never good news for ski resorts and in those locations, the economy is hit hard. Winter drought conditions and a lack of snow are also not good news for gardens either.
Can a Drought Happen in the Winter?
What Causes a Drought?
There are two key factors that cause drought conditions, even in winter. Firstly, there is below-average or even less, rainfall or snowfall. Sometimes there is no snow or rain for a prolonged period. Secondly, the sun, even the winter sun, evaporates moisture in the soil. In dry conditions, the water supply can be put at risk. Some countries and American states have grown accustomed to water restrictions, however, it is usually in the summer months.
A summer drought will eliminate water supply and will do so, even more, when it continues into the fall or winter months. Moreover, prolonged droughts result in water sources starting to dry out. The water levels in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and dams are of paramount importance to the domestic water supply. In fact, the water resources are also vital for local vacation and fishing spots whose economies rely on domestic tourism and vacationers. In regions such as southern California where there has been a drought for years, farmland becomes redundant. The remaining dry soil that hasn’t blown away, contains no moisture or nutrients.
Winter Drought Effects
Below-average precipitation affects both the roots and the visible parts of trees, plants, and shrubs. Roots dry out without proper soil moisture and nutrients. Needles brown and fall, leaves curl, dry, and drop. Droughts place stress on the relationship that tree roots have with the soil as it impacts the biological, physical, and chemical activities in the soil. Trees cannot absorb sufficient nutrients or water from the soil when these activities are interrupted.
The consequences of a lack of winter moisture manifest in a lack of vigor in the trees, poor tree health, and smaller leaves come spring. Furthermore, insects invade and diseases spread as a result of a lack of water. Plants and trees can be covered in aphids and mites as they are too weak to fight against them. Unfortunately, insects that eat mites and aphids die off in a drought which further worsens the situation.
Winter Drought Landscape Damage
Many plants and trees are vulnerable when there is are drier than average conditions. Trees that are already diseased or stressed by nearby building works or insects tend to struggle even more. Perennials, shrubs, and trees that have been planted in recent seasons, are also susceptible to drought. Lawns that weren’t watered well enough in the fall months and lawns that were cut too low can experience severe drought damage. This can be attributed not only to the lack of water but also because they are exposed to the ravages of the sun and winter winds. In turn, this can lead to soil erosion. Come summer, the damage can be irreparable and yards will need major overhauls.
The best protection that can be afforded to a garden is a diligent fall maintenance schedule. Proper fall lawn care includes pruning, mowing, and watering, as well as watching out for infestations and diseased plants and trees. If needed, corrective action can be taken before winter hits, with or without rain and snow.
Additional Reading: U.S. Drought Monitor
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