Give Thanks to the Weather This Holiday Season

Does weather affect your Thanksgiving meal? You bet! From wild turkey survival to the life cycle of the apples in your pie, weather conditions have a big impact on the traditional turkey-day fixings. This year, impress your dinner companions with interesting weather-food facts.

Wild Turkeys
Sweet Potatoes


While these large, plump birds are able to both fly and swim for short distances, they are not a migratory species, and can be found living year-round in every state in the US except for Alaska.  Look for them in open forests where they spend their nights roosting high in the trees, either as part of a flock or individually. Turkey populations living near residential areas have been known to roost on railings, roofs, and even on vehicles!

Tough birds: Wild turkeys live year-round in some of the chilliest parts of the United States, including the Midwest and Northeast, and are able to survive sub-zero temperatures.  As a matter of fact, during spells of severe weather, turkeys can settle in roosting areas without food for up to two weeks, able to survive losing up to 40% of their body weight!

Snarled by snow: The bigger winter challenge for wild turkeys is snowy weather. Wild turkeys eat all sorts of ground forage, including seeds, grains, and small bits of vegetation, but they generally cannot reach foods under more than six inches of snow.  Soft, powdery snow also makes it harder for turkeys to move around—the birds will generally “wait it out” in roosts until snow crusts over or melts.

Despite extreme weather, most wild turkeys make it through winter.  Survival rates during mild or average winters are between 70 and 100%; harsher winter survival rates are between 55 and 60%. Even during harsh winters, more than enough turkeys survive to maintain healthy breeding populations.


Most of the world’s cranberries are produced in the United States, hailing predominantly from Wisconsin, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. These fruits thrive in a special type of wetland, a bog made up of acidic waters and alternating layers of sand and decomposing plant material. Cranberries grow here and in man-made wetlands on long, woody vines, which form a thick mat over the surface of the bed. The cranberries harvested from these vines are affected by their local weather conditions.

Sunshine: Cranberries are typically harvested from September to November, and the amount of sunlight the plants receive in the year prior to the harvest can have a big impact on their yield. Greater amounts of sunlight, especially in the fall and winter months, can lead to an increase in photosynthetic activity, producing stronger flower buds and larger berries at harvest time.

Temperature: This seasonal favorite is restricted to areas that have moderate summer temperatures, with a July daily average maximum temperature of 85°F. Currently, this temperature range restricts cranberry habitat to only as far south as New Jersey, but temperature increases due to climate change may shift this boundary northward. This shift in the fruit’s habitat would mean that cranberries, currently the third largest agricultural commodity in Massachusetts, would no longer grow in the southeastern part of that state.

Rainfall: Cranberries rely on regular rainfall during the May through August growing season for large harvests, but the effect of precipitation on the cranberry yield can start as early as the previous year’s harvest time. Cranberry bogs are flooded with water every winter, and the resultant ice sheet insulates the plant’s buds, protecting them as they sit dormant until the spring thaw. If there is insufficient precipitation before the plants enter dormancy, there may be less fruit production the following year.


About 80% of the United States’ pumpkin supply is available in October, but pumpkin makes an appearance year-round in pies, breads and other foods. The majority of US pumpkins are grown in Illinois, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and New York, and the weather in these areas can have a big impact on the yearly pumpkin harvest.

Wet and soggy: Too much rain can cause crops to rot and make them more susceptible to infection and disease. Fungi, which thrive in wet conditions, can damage leaves and stems or kill pumpkin vines and fruits.

Hot and dry: Dry, hot weather can cause pumpkins to have too many male blossoms and too few female blossoms, resulting in a smaller harvest.  Lack of water during droughts can also result in smaller and lighter-weight pumpkins.


In the United States, the majority of apples are grown in Washington, New York, and Michigan. The life-cycle and health of this fall staple is directly related to seasons and weather.

Spring: Pollination, essential to fruit development, occurs in late spring, and the flowers bloom from mid-April to early June, depending on the growing region.

To keep pest populations down, many apple growers use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques, which are pest-control methods that are less harmful to the environment than typical methods. One technique that farmers use is monitoring weather (temperature, humidity and precipitation). This helps them predict pest and disease outbreaks and decide when to spray pesticides to minimize impact on water quality and maximize impact on pests.

Summer: In the summer, the apple crop can be damaged by heat stress and drought, which can negatively impact the fruit set and subsequent quality of the apples if the orchards are not adequately irrigated. Apple growers might also prune the trees to encourage fruit growth—if the trees are shaded, restricting their photosynthesis, the fruit production can drop significantly. By the end of the summer, apples complete their growth period and begin to ripen.

Fall: Months of intense light exposure coupled with the arrival of cool nights spurs the activity of a particular enzyme in red apples that generates a red pigment, causing their color to deepen. Apples become fully ripe, are harvested and are made into a variety of different foods and juices. After the harvest ends, farmers prepare the orchards for winter.

Winter: Flower and leaf buds appear on apple trees in late fall and the trees lie dormant throughout winter. In mid-winter, some farmers prune the trees so they will receive plenty of winter sunlight and their foliage and flowers will be healthy, full, and productive the next spring. These cold winter temperatures are necessary to make the apple trees flower, and this requirement restricts the apples’ growth to the upper latitudes.

Under climate change projections, this crisp favorite may be at risk—apples rely on cool winter temperatures for flowering, and historically, the harvest following a warmer winter produces a reduced fruit yield and poor fruit quality. Climate change may already be impacting these fruits—over the past 30 to 40 years, the spring bloom dates for apples grown in New York have occurred several days earlier than they have historically. This earlier bloom can lead to increased frost damage, as the trees leaf out and flower earlier in the spring when the temperatures are still variable, potentially exposing young shoots and buds to dangerous chill and threatening the state’s $286 million apple industry.


Sweet potato originated in the Western Hemisphere, where the tradition of growing this nutritious vegetable continues, with the United States’ sweet potatoes predominantly grown in North Carolina, California, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Florida. 

Sweet potatoes thrive in warmer weather, needing a long frost-free season to reach full maturity.

Frost can damage sweet potato vines and roots. Cold soils, from 55°F and below, can reduce the potatoes’ ability to keep well in storage after harvest. 

Heavy rains can prevent sweet potato roots from forming properly or may cause the potatoes to split.


In the United States, a large portion of the grapes grown to produce wine come from California, Oregon, and New York. The growth and health of wine grapes–and the quality of wine–are affected by many different weather conditions.

Sun: White and red grapes that receive a lot of sun exposure generally result in fuller-bodied wines.

Wind: Too much wind can damage grape vines, reducing crop yield or halting grape maturation. Some wind is necessary, however, to dry out the grapevines and prevent fungal diseases.

Rain: Grape vines generally need about 22 inches of rain per year to survive.  However, too much rain during the summer can cause mildew growth, damaging crops.  Too much rain shortly before grape harvest can affect a finished wine by reducing the amount of sugar in the grapes.

Frost: Frosts that occur in the spring after the buds have made an appearance can kill emerging shoots, while fall frosts can lead to the death of the vine canopy and stop fruit from ripening.



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