(WYTV) – Whether you like fall or not, it’s hard to argue the changing leaves aren’t a beautiful sight, we even decorate our homes to mimic the change and plan weddings to get those gorgeous photos filled with color.
But the weather this year hasn’t been the most conducive to vibrant colors. Pinpoint Meteorologist Ryan Halicki explains why.
He recently chatted with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ fall color forester, David Parrott. They talked about the seasonality of the changing leaves and the variables that play a key role.
You will find yourself hunting harder this year or waiting until next fall for vibrant foliage.
“I think it’s going to be in the more localized areas that you’re going to have to go to to find those more brilliant colors,” Parrott said.
Parrott says our average peak for fall colors is mid-October, but his year, the warm weather slowed it down.
“The temperature has a big effect so you can imagine the more summer-like temperatures we keep, the longer those trees are going to want to photosynthesize,” Parrott said.
Think back to science class — photosynthesis is the process plants use to create energy. The key component in plants that allows this to happen is a green pigment called chlorophyll, which keeps leaves green until days shorten.
“The length of the day is a prime driver. That signals when the trees slow down on their photosynthesis, which leads to the leaf change,” Parrott said.
Trees already have the yellow and orange pigments we see in the fall in their leaves, you just don’t see it until trees stop producing chlorophyll. To get more of the vibrant reds, you need optimum conditions as trees prepare for winter.
“The sunny days is what triggers the production of anthocyanins, which is what gives the red color,” Parrott said.
Anthocyanins are a reddish-purple pigment and help trees protect nutrients in the leaves from the sun as they prepare to absorb them before the winter. Stressors on the tree like a dry stretch right before the change can enhance production of the pigment, but you also need cool nights.
“If you’re not having those cool nights, any of the production that took place in that leaf is just going to get pulled right back in the tree and it won’t retain that color,” Parrott said.
Parrott says optimal nighttime temperatures for bright colors are generally below 50 degrees but staying above freezing.
ODNR originally expected a vibrant peak between October 15 through 20, but the warm weather has both delayed and muted the colors.
“The more impressive displays, at least in general, I wouldn’t expect that from this point on. But, again, that’s not to say that there aren’t areas where you’re not going to be able to find those. You’re just going to have to do more looking than in previous years,” Parrott said.
This past weekend’s temperature drop may have helped a little, though the window for the trees to produce the vibrant colors is rapidly closing. If you want to check in on where things stand, both the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources post weekly updates.