Autumn leaves shifting a little slower this season? Higher-than-average temperatures may be the culprit

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – There are only ten days left in October – but in parts of the Buffalo-Niagara region, it might not look like it.

The changing leaves may look a bit more uneven this year than in other autumn seasons – and in some cases, the leaves are turning more slowly.

There are a lot of factors that go into when leaves change – and how bright they get – but a contributing factor is warmer-than-average temperatures and a lack of cold nights.

“With these very warm days we’re experiencing now, it can turn down the brilliance,” said Daniel Weitoish, arborist with Cornell University. “We’ve been very warm during the days, and that can extend the growing season for the trees.”

“By and large, it hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s still beautiful,” he added.

News 4 meteorologist Mike Cejka confirms that we’re having a warmer-than-normal October.

“It’s been very mild – even a little bit above ten degrees above normal until this point,” Cejka said. “We’ve had a trend where the autumn season is trending warmer, but the spring season is trending colder, and that temperature comes into play with the leaf change.”

Leaves change in the fall when they stop making chlorophyll, which lends them their green color. As the green disappears, the yellow/gold/orange/red colors underneath appear.

The change is caused by the shift in length of daylight and changes in temperature that are typical of fall.

“That temperature comes into play with the leaf change – if it’s milder, it can slow down the progression of the foliage, and we’re definitely seeing that this year – it’s warmer than normal, and the precipitation is above normal too,” Cejka adds.  

According to the ILoveNY Fall Foliage report, the peak foliage should arrive in parts of Erie County this weekend. In Buffalo, you should expect near-peak leaves with about 50 percent change and Niagara County should be at midpoint to near-peak in the Falls area with a 60 percent color change.

“Foliage change has been uneven this season and travelers may find that some areas classified as peak and near-peak contain an abundance of green leaves,” the Foliage Report page says.

The timeframe in which fall foliage peaks for different regions is also influenced by multiple factors, and can shift from year to year, Weitoish added.

“Things can shift around maybe a week earlier or a week later,” he said. “It’s going to be more challenging to predict with the climate changing – the weather will be more unpredictable, if we have a drought, too much rain, changes in the weather from the established patterns, that will start affecting it.”

What are some of the conditions that make for the most spectacular leaf changing seasons?

“An appropriately wet spring, a summer without a drought, having sunny days and cool nights makes for the most vibrant foliage change,” Weitoish said.

Kaley Lynch is a digital reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of her work here.

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