The Reason Behind This Year’s Lack Of Color In Autumn Foliage

Autumn leaves
Phil Walter / Getty Images

The eastern United States draws many people both near and far every autumn season. Leaf peepers come just to catch a look at the vibrant yellows, oranges, and reds that make up fall foliage. This year, it seems that many parts of the United States are lacking their usual colorful array. Accu Weather recently reported on the reason behind this mostly green season that’s happening further south of northern New England and the Great Lakes states.

Dr. Mark Abrams, a professor of ecosystem science and management at Penn State University, recently spoke out about what’s up with this unusual autumn. This summer and fall were and are very wet in the region, says Abrams. Not to mention the region has also gone through a bout of rather unseasonably high temperatures that have followed all the way into October for many areas.

“It seems like it has disrupted the normal coloration process. Even though the temperatures are now conducive to fall colors, a lot of the trees are just not producing it.”

Warmer weather and rain extended past the growing season, keeping the leaves in perfect green condition this autumn. Because of this, the green pigment did not break down — a process that the is called chlorophyll — as it typically would. Leaf peepers have the abundance of rainfall to thank for the cause of leaf fungus in many trees as well. This build up of leaf fungus has also greatly contributed to the faded colors and mostly green leaves.

Currently the region is getting frosty nights. The leaves typically go straight to brown when this happens. Some trees have put on their fall colors, but many continue to have green or dull leaves. It is also worth noting that some species of trees are far better at producing autumn leaves, so those trees have likely been the ones spotted most amid the wash of green and brown. The Sugar and Red Maples, which normally produce the best color, are still vibrant in the areas.

“It’s almost like a perfect storm of conditions that led to pretty bad color this year. There are some trees coming out of this weekend with fairly decent colors, but they are definitely in the minority.”

According to Abrams, he believes that there will also be a considerably delayed leaf fall, due to the exact same reasons that have kept the trees green. Oak species will be particularly at risk for this, since they are practically unchanged from their warm weather color. Abrams suggested that, even though these types of trees usually have leaf fall by the end of October, it will not be until well into November before that happens this year.