Rainy summer may extend fall foliage display, experts say

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With October more than halfway over, the leaves are just beginning to change from green to shades of red, yellow and orange. The peak of this year’s fall foliage should be toward the beginning of next month. 

The peak used to be closer to Columbus Day, but Gary Lessor, senior meteorologist at the Weather Center at Western Connecticut State University, said generally the effects of climate change have delayed it in recent years. Other weather factors also impact foliage. 

“Last year we had the drought, so that made it a little earlier ...” Lessor said. This year “we had a very wet summer and a relatively mild summer-fall, so the leaves haven’t been in too much of a rush.” 

Lessor expects the foliage will change relatively quickly in the next few weeks. 

State Forester Christopher Martin said cooler nights in the forecast will help.  

“Next week, we’re getting some overnight lows in the low 40s and that’s really going to cause the colors to pop so we’re getting set up for some very nice views in Connecticut,” Martin said. 

Martin said “there are three main ingredients to the color recipe.” 

“One is the number of daylight hours, which is really our only constant year to year,” Martin said. “Climate change hasn’t changed the number of daylight hours yet, thankfully. The two other variables which we do see influencing foliage each year is the precipitation amounts and distribution during the summer and then overnight temperatures at the end of September and early October.”   

When the variables line up, the foliage changes earlier. 

“We have ample rain in the summer and then we have a couple of upper 30 degree, lower 40 degree nights end of September, early October,” Martin said. “That just sets everything in motion.” 

But with the seasonably warm overnight temperatures in September and October this year, the fall foliage peak comes later. 

“I think the coldest it got was maybe some 50s,” Martin said. “... We really didn’t see any early crisp fall mornings just yet, but I think we’re on the verge.” 

The good news is the peak foliage should last longer this year.  “I think everybody will be happy with a longer display, longer colors instead of like last year, we had the drought, so they just turned color and fell,” Lessor said. “It was just dreary for an extended period of time, so this will kind of keep the display going for a little bit longer.” 


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