Fall Foliage: The Science Behind Leaves Changing Color


Cooler weather of recent has some of us mourning the impending end to summer but others running to our nearest coffee shop to get a pumpkin spice latte fix. Like it or not, fall is under three weeks and we are already starting to see leaves change color in parts of the area.

Fall foliage will peak in northern Herkimer County as well as into the Adirondacks during late September. For Central New York, including the greater Utica-Rome area, peak fall foliage can be expected in early October.

Expected fall foliage peak dates in New York state.

As we transition from summer into Autumn, chemical processes take place in trees that result in the changes in leaves colors. The cooler, nighttime temperatures in addition to longer nights are the primary causes for the change.

Chlorophyll, the chemical that causes leaves to be green, breaks down as a result of cooler temperatures. Xanthophyll, carotene and anthocyanin are all left behind resulting in yellow, orange and red leaves respectively.

A drier than normal late summer and a sunnier and cooler early autumn result in the most vibrant colors. Thus far, the Mohawk Valley has seen a wetter than normal late summer and the North Country has seen a drier than normal late summer. If you want to find the most vivid fall colors, your best bet would be to travel north towards the Adirondacks Region.

We need your help in tracking the fall foliage throughout the next couple months! Be sure to send us your foliage photos to Chief Meteorologist Colleen Hurley on Facebook or Twitter and Meteorologist Erik Johnson on Facebook or Twitter.

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