Those who could afford it placed huge fans or propane heaters amid their trees. Some even hired helicopters to hover above the orchards, hoping the breezes they kicked up would push warm air closer to the ground — enough to raise the temperature just a degree or two.
"Sometimes that's all you need to prevent a total crop loss," Irish-Brown said.
Even as orchard operators salvage what they can, fickle weather remains a concern.
Steve Louis began harvesting early varieties this month on his farm 60 miles northwest of Madison, Wis. Thanks to its hilltop location, he's doing considerably better than the statewide average yield, expected to be perhaps 80 percent below normal. But his apples have suffered from the drought and storms are a constant threat.
"I was talking to a big grower in Pennsylvania who had a nice crop ... but then a hailstorm went through and took it out," Louis said. "It's like Mother Nature is not going to stop until it's all gone this year."
Associated Press writers Mike Householder in Detroit, George Walsh in Albany, N.Y., and Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this story.
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