Fleeting Fall Foliage in Central New York

Autumn easily qualifies as many Central New Yorkers' favorite time of the year, largely in part to the beautiful colors on the trees. Generally, our local peak of foliage occurs around the 21st to 23rd of October. However, when asked this year, many folks are telling me the display has been less than average, like Rae Devan.

â??Less intense? Maybe because of the drought?â??

Of course, our rainfall deficit here in Central New York is very well documented, with some folks approaching 6 inches of deficit rainfall for the year. This classifies much of the region as being in a moderate drought. That drought affects trees differently, depending upon if they are located in an urban, or rural setting.

Donald Leopold, Ph.D., Distinguished Teaching Professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental and Forest Biology at SUNY ESF, elaborates. â??I think the moderate drought played a role on trees in urban conditions. We have some on campus in fact, they were really stressed and they dropped their leaves early. But I think in most forest settings, where trees have been subjected to these kinds of settings for decades, theyâ??re well-adapted.

In fact, Dr. Leopold tells me the colors are even better this year than normal, thanks in part to the lack of rainfall. He says the anthocyanins, or red pigments, are better able to develop in drier conditions.

As for those well-adapted trees in forest settings, Dr. Leopold believes the wind is the biggest factor in their quicker-than-average drop-off this year. He shares his forecast for the rest of the season.

â??I think weâ??ll see the usual progression of colors through about the third week of October with the native species, then in the last week of October, weâ??ll typically see the Norway maples color up. I walk by these trees everyday, and based on what Iâ??m seeing them doing right now, and driving around Central NY, I think weâ??re within two or three days of the normal fall coloration processes.â??

It sounds like the moral of the story is, get out and enjoy the leaves while you can, before the wind blows them down for the year.