Will Fall Foliage be Vibrant in 2017?

Posted: September 9, 2017, 11:03 am by zchabala

Believe it or not, the summer is already winding down and fall is right around the corner. The burning question everyone has now is, "how long until the leaves start to change?" Before we can pinpoint exactly when the leaves will change, we have to understand how the weather affects trees and what causes the leaves to change colors.

Leaves actually have two different ways that they form colors: The green color is formed in the summer when the production of chlorophyll is high due to abundant sunshine. The fall colors begin creeping in when the sun starts to fade and the production of chlorophyll decreases. This is when the other, more vibrant color pigments that are in the leaf start to show.

The two worst weather factors for vibrant fall foliage is extreme heat and drought, because they put a lot of stress on the tree. This could cause the leaves to fall off prematurely before the color pigments can fully show, or it can cause the leaves to not look as bright and vivid. On the opposite side, a wetter than normal summer with somewhat cooler temperatures will help the colors turn out brighter and also help the trees retain their leaves for a longer period of time.

The summertime isn't the only time of year when the weather affects fall foliage. The early fall is just as important to the foliage because the best colors from the leaves result from cool & clear days and night, but not freezing. Once the fall sets in, you don't want a lot of rain or wind as this could knock the leaves off of the trees before they reach peak color.

So how well will the colors show this fall? Since much of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast saw near or slightly below average temperatures during the summer, and slightly above average rainfall for the summer, the colors are expected to be some of the brightest we have seen in recent memory as long as the early fall weather cooperates. Indications are for slightly above average temperatures through the end of September with below average rainfall, so the weather looks like it will continue to cooperate.

Some of the leaves across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast have already started to change! Below is a county map of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast that shows what areas have already seen some of the leaves change. 

Map courtesy of New England Today. The map is interactive, so click and drag to see your location!

The Midwest hasn't seen much change in colors yet, but the leaves should start changing in the next few weeks.

The leaves are expected to continue to change over the next month or so before they reach their peak colors. Areas in the interior Northeast will peak towards the end of Septemeber or the beginning of October, while areas across the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest likely won't peak until mid to late October. Below is a map showing peak fall foliage times across the US.

Peak foliage times courtesy of wikipedia.

Forensic Coordinator / Associate Meteorologist
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