HAWTHORNE, NJ - Strolling along Goffle Brook this summer, one could easily be convinced Hawthorne has been carved from a jungle. The banks, dry and barren in the winter, have grown into a dense stand of grass and reeds. In the forests, the understory is lush with fresh growth, and everywhere, mushrooms emerge from the Earth, spreading their spores to the wind.
It’s no accident that the fungus among us is making a prolonged appearance in backyards, parks, and grassy medians. Mushrooms are generally 90% water and require soil temperatures from about 68 to 85 degrees to fruit and incubate. This summer has provided ideal conditions. According to the US Drought Monitor, New Jersey started the year with 39% of the state experiencing abnormally dry conditions, but by May 100% of the state was out of drought, and it has been that way ever since. The State Climatologist reported this past July was the 15th hottest in New Jersey since the state started keeping records in 1895, and rainfall was 1.4 inches above average.
One could say that mushrooms have become emblematic of this summer, as afternoon showers have become almost rainforest-like in their consistency. Mention the weather to any Hawthornite on the street, and a typical response might go something like “when did New Jersey become Florida?” In fact, that would not be far from reality. As of August 18th, Hawthorne has measured almost 8 inches of rainfall for the month, which is double the monthly average. For comparison, the average monthly rainfall in Miami is a bit over 6 inches.
So when will the reign of the fungus come to an end? The rainforest-like conditions this summer are the result of a strong interaction between the jet stream and the Bermuda High. Typically, the jet stream, a current of air driving in from the west, would be well to our north this time of year, but it’s been tonguing down over the Midwest and flowing back up along the Appalachians. Meanwhile, over the open Atlantic, a blob of high pressure—the Bermuda High—has dug in for the season, rotating in a counterclockwise motion. Together, the two phenomena have created moist corridor over the U.S. east coast, conveying warm, humid air from the Gulf and tropical Atlantic up into the Northeast. The configuration even led to a rare summer nor’easter at the end of July.
Whether or not the jet stream will back away for a significant length of time (finally granting some continuous sunshine) is anyone’s guess. A similar atmospheric configuration drove the parade of nor’easters over the winter, and a continuation of this trend would suggest a heavy snow season ahead. More immediately, a persistence of the status quo into Fall would make for a short leaf season, but a fantastic mushroom season, as soil temperatures reach their peak in early September and become more consistent from the surface to depth.
So, for now, consider taking up mycology. Leaves might turn brown and drab in a few weeks, but the ground could be bursting with horse hair, puffballs, ghost pipe, and brittlegill!
Daniel J. Ciarletta is a PhD candidate in Environmental Management at Montclair State University, with a research focus on sedimentology and coastal geomorphology. He has more than a passing interest in the geology, geography, and history of New Jersey, and is also an avid hiker.
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