Tip Sheets

Dry conditions may cause ‘patchy’ fall foliage season

With I Love NY’s fall foliage report expected to be released today, the following Cornell University experts are available to discuss what leaf peepers can expect to see this season.

Arthur DeGaetano

Professor of earth and atmospheric sciences

Arthur DeGaetano is the director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and an expert on climate data. He says that fall foliage displays will still be a part of fall in the Northeast, although dry conditions may affect how long the colors last.

DeGaetano says:

“The mid-summer drought is likely to be the key weather parameter affecting fall foliage. Areas in southern New England, the Hudson Valley of New York, and parts of central Vermont, have been particularly dry. Such dry conditions, particularly if they extend into the fall, may delay the onset of fall colors. In addition, trees that have been particularly hard hit by the dry conditions are likely to show only muted colors, with leaves dropping quickly. Thus, in some areas, the reds and yellows of fall might not last as long as normal. In fact, some especially drought-stressed trees have already become to drop their leaves. Northern New England largely escaped this summer’s drought so there the return to cooler temperatures are likely to lead to quintessential New England fall colors.”

Taryn Bauerle is a professor of plant science, whose research focuses on how plants communicate water stress. She says fall foliage is likely to be patchy this year.

Bauerle says:

“I think the lack of rain over most of the summer will cause many trees in dryer areas to start to change their leaves early. In some ways, you can spot the trees in dry areas this way. We have had a fair amount of rainfall in the last two weeks, but I am not sure if it is enough to affect fall foliage. If the rain does continue it could just result in knocking the senescing leaves off the trees earlier. Overall, colors should be very nice this year but maybe a bit patchy. Early October should be the optimal time to visit NY, with higher elevation areas having more substantial color than lower elevations.”

Daniel Weitoish

Arborist at Cornell Botanic Gardens

Daniel Weitoish is an arborist at Cornell Botanic Gardens. He says expect an average to below average year in the Finger Lakes given the summer drought and cloudy forecast through the end of September.

Weitoish says:

While it’s yet a bit too early to tell, I expect an average to below average year in the Finger Lakes given the summer drought and cloudy forecast through the end of September.

The ideal growing season for fall foliage would contain a rainy spring that arrives on time (no late frosts), a summer free from drought, and a fall with cool nights and sunny days. Respectively, these conditions promote vigorous trees with healthy foliage, allow for predictable color change forecasts, and enhance the vibrancy of colors. This year in the Finger Lakes, we experienced dry conditions through much of the summer, stressing many tree species. Moreover, the rain we did receive often came in heavy downpours that ran off rather than get absorbed into soils, leading to greater drought stress than NYS Drought Monitor maps may indicate. Trees located in lawns, along roadways/sidewalks, and those with constricted root zones are exhibiting signs of stress and some are beginning to change color prematurely.


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