A hot summer and dry start to fall, how does this effect the fall colors?

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Fall foliage changes colors near Three Brothers Mountain in Adirondack Park in Keene Valley, N.Y. in October 2016. (AP / Tom Curley)

Tis the season for the leaves to start putting on a show across Upstate NY!

The question you may have though is will the hot, sunny summer and dry start to fall have any impacts on the colors and how quickly the leaves change??

Dr. Don Leopold, a Distinguished Teaching Professor of SUNY ESF, says the most profound impacts on leaf color change this fall is expected to come from the dryness and all the sun we’ve seen this past summer and now this month of September. In addition to the dryness and sunshine, the recent and pending fall chill ahead will play a significant role too according to Dr. Leopold.

Dr. Leopold says the dry summer and start to fall has led to the red and sugar maples, 20% of all trees in NYS, to turn early, especially where conditions are driest in the state. This includes drought prone areas like urban development, small yards in front of houses, and along streets to name a few.

He says the main driver for fall colors in areas that aren’t as dry, like a watered landscape, will be the cooler temperatures that we’ve felt recently and the pending chill.

What about all the sunshine we’ve seen for the past few months? Dr. Leopold simply says, “the greater the sunshine, the greater the fall color”. With that said, the colors should be quite spectacular this fall for that very reason alone!

Even if a more active/unsettled pattern develops heading into October, like is forecast to occur, he believes it won’t have an impact on the colors at this point. Unfortunately, more rain and often associated gustier winds could shorten the duration of the peak foliage by up to two weeks, which has happened many times in CNY according to Dr. Leopold.

If you are wondering when peak foliage may occur around Central New York this fall Dr. Leopold thinks it will be earlier than “normal”. So he says the so called typical peak foliage occurs around October 23rd to the 26th, but feels it will be a few days or more early this year. Why? He thinks the combination of the summer and early fall dryness and chillier temperatures we just had and that are on the way will be the main culprits.

Enjoy the great fall colors ahead CNY and let’s all hope there aren’t too many big storms with lots of wind in mid to late October, otherwise our peak foliage window will blow right by.

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