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Christmas trees burned by the heat, dwindling the supply

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By Jennifer Gray, CNN meteorologist

For a state that produces more Christmas trees than anywhere else in the country, Oregon Christmas tree growers are struggling after Mother Nature put on a show in 2021.

Oregon produces roughly 40% of the nation’s Christmas tree supply, according to the National Christmas Tree Association, a trade association representing hundreds of tree farms and other affiliated businesses.

This past summer’s heat waves have resulted in losses of Christmas tree crops, as well as an increase in prices.

“I had 30% mortality, but every single seedling is damaged without question,” says Tom Norby, who owns Trout Creek Tree Farm and is trying to overcome one of his toughest years.

Norby is the president of the Oregon Christmas Tree Growers Association and says some farms across his state have experienced a total loss.

“There are literally fields with hundreds of acres of dead seedlings. Just 100% mortality across the entire field. If you produce a million trees a year, you don’t have time to deal with that,” says Norby.

Norby says the state’s farms were largely spared from the 225,000 acres that were scorched across the state from wildfires, but says the weeklong heat wave in June was the real killer.

“The heat dome came at the absolute worst time. It came when those new seedlings were trying to take root on that fresh soil and push out new shoots, and they just couldn’t compete with that heat,” says Norby.

The heat-scorched trees have led to less supply in California this year, but in Oregon, where saplings were significantly impacted, it could be the supply seven to 10 years from now seeing the pinch.

The Pacific Northwest heat event occurred in late June, shattering heat records. Portland set an all-time, record-high temperature three days in a row, topping out at 116 degrees. Seattle hit 108 degrees.

Lytton, British Columbia, reached 121 degrees, the highest temperature ever recorded in Canada, and around 48 degrees above what’s normal for that time of year. That town burned to the ground a day later.

Jeri Seifert, president of the California Christmas Tree Association and farm owner, says the heat wave had a huge impact on the farms in California, mainly from sunburn.

When the tree is exposed to too much sunlight and heat, without sufficient moisture, parts of the tree or the entire tree can sunburn, resulting in tree damage or the tree completely dying.

“When the heat dome hit, most of the native trees were burned on their southern-facing sides, so you can’t market a tree that’s brown on one side,” says Seifert.

In a heat dome, high pressure acts as a lid on the atmosphere, and as hot air attempts to escape the lid forces it back down, warming even more as it sinks.

Wildfires have also impacted farms in California.

According to Seifert, one farm in her state lost 90% of its farm in one of the wildfires and even the owners’ home. She has seen Christmas tree growers closing their doors left and right.

“When you lose a plantation, there’s a huge process that goes into regrowing those trees, so it takes many years to recoup,” says Seifert.

There’s not a lot of money in Christmas tree growing, says Seifert, so younger generations aren’t stepping up to run the farm and instead opting for higher paying jobs.

“Many of our farmers here in California are approaching retirement, so as they move up in age and experience a forest fire ravaging through their farm, it’s just time to close their doors,” she says.

This year’s weather extremes has resulted in the loss of supply and, according to Seifert, prices of trees have gone up from 10 to 15%.

It’s been a calamity of weather events that has turned this industry on its head, one that both Seifert and Norby hope they can overcome.

“This is a global warming event that’s impacting Christmas,” says Norby.

His hope is that we don’t have another extreme heat event next season. Norby believes he can salvage many of this damaged trees, since it takes eight years to grow one.

But he says if another extreme heat event hits his farm next season, he may not be able to recover.

Parts of Hawaii could receive 2 feet of rain

Just days after the the higher elevations of Hawaii received snow with blizzard conditions, the entire state is now under a major flood threat.

“Expect widespread heavy rainfall with this system, especially under the large heavy rain band, capable of producing catastrophic flooding, and strong southwest winds through Wednesday,” says the National Weather Service office in Honolulu.

An area of low pressure will meander in the region during the next few days, bringing the potential for life-threatening floods and landslides.

In Maui County, nearly a foot of rain has already fallen, and more is expected.

Because of the heavy rain, some areas will experience nearly zero visibility, making conditions on the roads even more dangerous.

The rainfall is beginning to wind down across the Big Island, However, heavy rain is still forecast to fall across Maui, Oahu and Kauai throughout the day.

“Localized rainfall rates of two to three inches per hour will exacerbate ongoing flooding from earlier rainfall,” says NWS Honolulu.

Parts of Maui have received 6 inches of rain in just six hours, and it’s still coming down.

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Some areas in the Northeast could see their first measurable snowfall of the season this week

There is still quite a bit of uncertainty in the forecast, but it is looking more likely that several of the big cities along the I-95 corridor will see flakes.

“The airmass should be cold enough to support light snowfall across the region on Wednesday with snow developing in the morning and exiting to the east by early evening,” said the NWS in New York.

Their forecast currently calls for an inch or two of snowfall for many areas east of New York City, with less than an inch elsewhere.

“A reasonable worse case scenario may be up around two or three inches,” they say.

The NWS office in Boston is also tracking the system. “A coastal storm may bring some accumulating snowfall across southern New England Wednesday into Wednesday night, but there is considerable uncertainty,” it said.

Boston is calling for mainly frozen precipitation, but the amount of snow that will fall is uncertain.

If the low tracks farther to the east, most of the heavy snow will stay offshore. However, if the low tracks closer to shore, coastal areas could see snow.

Right now, Boston is forecasting one to two inches of snow for eastern areas, but that could likely change.

Behind the system, temperatures will plummet. Lows Wednesday morning will range from the upper 20s inland to around freezing along coastal areas of New York.

“While the snowfall is expected to be mainly light, sun angle as this time of year is low, so some minor accumulation on area roadways is possible even with these marginal temperatures,” says the NWS office in New York.

California could finally get some much needed rain

“Parts of Southern California may see the first rainfall in over a month,” says the Weather Prediction Center.

A notable storm system will make its way onshore this week, bringing rain to drought-stricken regions of the west and mountain snow to the Sierra and Rockies.

The rain should begin in California on Wednesday and lasting through Thursday for many locations. The Bay area is one of those locations that will receive rain. Despite the fact it won’t be much, any rain is helpful.

“Definitely not a drought buster or big AR (atmospheric river), but much needed rainfall nonetheless,” says the NWS in San Fransisco.

Their office is forecasting a few hundredths to a quarter of an inch of rain with this system.

There will be much cooler air with this particular system as well, bringing snow to lower elevations. Snow totals in the Sierra mountains could reach up to a foot in some locations.

“Definitely the coldest airmass so far this season,” says the NWS in San Francisco. Lows will be in the 30s and 40s in the Bay area Friday morning, with chilly temperatures lasting through much of the weekend.

Farther south, Los Angeles could even get in on the rain.

“Amounts likely ranging from a tenth to a quarter an inch for the coast and valleys up to a quarter to half inch in the mountains,” says the NWS office in Los Angeles.

Some models are hinting at even higher amounts, but their forecast office isn’t placing any bets yet. This rain is welcomed news for areas that so desperately need the rain, in hopes more could be on the way.

“Is this storm door finally opening? Longer range guidance shows additional rain chances returning Dec 13,” says the NWS in San Francisco.

Have you ever heard a frozen lake?

Steamboat Lake in Colorado is now frozen. Colorado Parks and Wildlife shared this tweet and you’ve got to hear it!

The sounds coming off of this frozen lake are something out of this world.

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CNN Meteorologists Haley Brink and Judson Jones contributed to this column.

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