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Is autumn arriving early?

Autumn in August?

This weekend and the week to come may well have Wichita residents thinking fall has come early.

“Yes, it’s a preview of fall, no doubt,” said Mick McGuire, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Wichita. “It looks like a beautiful stretch coming up.”

Highs will be in the low to mid-80s all week, with lows in the mid-60s. That’s several degrees lower than normal for this time of year.

In fact, McGuire said, it’s entirely possible that Wichita won’t see another 100-degree day this year.

“We’re slowly shifting toward fall,” he said. “What we’ve seen here recently is more of a larger-scale pattern shift.”

The dome of high pressure that allowed much of Kansas to bake for weeks in July and early August has shifted to the west, he said, allowing fronts to slide through the region from the northwest.

“It keeps the door open for these fast-moving storm systems,” McGuire said. “They haven’t been real wet yet, but that could change. But even if they don’t bring rain, they bring cooler temperatures.”

That’s welcome news for a thirsty region that saw 100s through most of July.

At this stage, area horticulturalists say yellowed and falling leaves are a sign of the extreme or exceptional drought that grips almost all of Kansas — not a sign that autumn has arrived early.

“They’re under stress, so they’re dropping the interior leaves of the plants,” said Scott Vogt, executive director of Dyck Arboretum in Hesston. “It’s a natural defense against drought conditions and the heat.

“It’s probably the driest I’ve seen it, and I’ve been here for 15 years.”

Looking at the trees, “they just look tired,” said Jason Griffin, director of the John C. Pair Horticulture Research Center in Derby. “They’re ready for fall.”

It was only a few years ago, McGuire said, that cool temperatures arrived in late August, ushering in an extended autumn.

If that happens this time around, it will be the continuation of a pattern that saw spring and then summer arrive at least a few weeks early.

Part of what’s happening, McGuire said, is a natural consequence of less sunlight as days grow shorter. Any heat waves that arrive now will be short-lived.

And there’s a potential bonus waiting at the end of this hot, dry summer: a fall full of vibrant colors.

Trees that have endured a stress-filled summer produce brighter pigments in the leaves as they change colors in the fall, horticulturalists say. There’s one small catch, though.

“We do need leaves for fall color,” Griffin said.

Fans of vivid fall colors should root for “a semi-decent rain” any time now, he said, because that will rehydrate the leaves and help them stay on the branches until they change colors.

If the drought continues, though, there may be so few leaves left on trees by the time they change colors folks may think they somehow missed autumn.

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