The end could be near — at least for the dreaded oak leaf itch mites that have been the scourge of the Kansas City area this fall.
“Good changes are on the way,” said Jenni Laflin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Mo.
A hard freeze is expected Sunday as air from a cold front coming through early Friday settles into the area. Temperatures are expected to drop to 25 degrees Sunday.
“That should finally end the growing season,” Laflin said.
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Although the Kansas City area had its first freeze Nov. 12, the temperature dropped below freezing for only 5 minutes, Laflin said. That wasn’t long enough to end the growing season or kill the oak mites.
It did end Kansas City’s run at the record of the latest first freeze, which is Nov. 24, recorded in 1931. The average first freeze is Oct. 27.
If the temperature drops to 25 degrees Sunday, that could bring about the demise of the oak mites, said Dennis Patton, a horticulturist for the Johnson County Kansas State University Research and Extension Office in Olathe.
“I’m not sure 100 percent of them will be dead because there will always be that rogue one,” Patton said.
“Temperatures of 28 to 30 degrees for several hours or longer should mean the end of the pain, the suffering, the agony and the reluctance to go outside,” Patton said. “This should be the salvation for those people who have hunkered down and refused to go outside.”
Raymond Cloyd, an entomologist with Kansas State University, said that’s not necessarily a safe bet.
“Insects and mites are a lot smarter than people think,” he said. “A hard freeze is not always harmful to them because they have means of overwintering.”
What’s needed, Cloyd said, is an extended period of cold weather to lower the soil temperature where the oak leaf itch mites might be located.
“But a hard freeze followed by two or three days of unusually warm weather? They’re going to come back up,” he said.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that Kansas City residents can do to prevent an outbreak of oak mites next year. The mites overwinter as adults on the ground, staying warm in debris or in cracks and crevices on trees.
Patton said there’s no spray to use, and cleaning up all debris might provide false hope because the mites can move, including in the wind. He believes winter temperatures might have a larger impact.
“People might find their time better spent saying a little prayer for a cold, nasty winter,” he said.
This year has probably been the worst for the oak mite bites, which leave painful, itchy red marks that sometimes have fluid-filled centers. Patton said he’s heard from people who refused to go outside and some who wanted to cut down the oak trees in their neighborhood.
Between the elections and itch mite, there wasn’t much else being discussed over the water-cooler, he said.
“The itch mites changed people’s daily routine, and I’ve never seen that before,” Patton said.