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There’s a severe drought in the South, and it’s making the leaves change

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

When tree leaves change color, it’s usually a beautiful, comforting sign that autumn is well and truly here. But in drought conditions, leaves can change color for another, far more worrisome reason.

Georgia is experiencing what the US Drought Monitor calls extreme drought over parts of the state, including metro Atlanta. As of Friday, about 28% of the state was in severe or extreme drought conditions. It’s the first time since May 2017 that the state has been hit with such significant dryness, and the first time since January 2017 that Atlanta has been affected.

As a result, some people have been noticing trees with prematurely brown or yellow leaves, which is a sign that they aren’t getting enough water and therefore aren’t able to produce enough food. Obviously, that’s a common problem in a drought.

According to the University of Georgia, trees can show “drought stress” in several ways, including leaf browning, curling and early leaf drops. If drought conditions are persistent, drought stress could severely impact the overall health of a tree over the course of a few years. In some cases, drought conditions make trees more susceptible to other diseases.

Georgia is seeing other negative results of the drought as well. The Georgia Forestry Department says fire calls are currently up 270% over the seasonal average.

Extreme drought appeared this week in Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky and expanded in Alabama and Texas.

Overall for the country, the area in extreme drought grew this week by 250% compared to last week, now covering nearly 24,000 square miles. Nearly half the Southeast — 44% — is in a drought state, affecting more than 21 million people. Drought conditions could soon expand to cover the entire Southeast.

Along with expanding drought conditions, many parts of the country have been sweltering under record October heat, with places from Florida to Indiana to New York showing temperatures of 90 degrees or above in the first few days of the month. According to meteorologists, the unseasonably hot weather should be breaking up soon.

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