Fall leaves

‘Tis the season when a drive through New England means landscapes bursting with red, orange, and yellow leaves. But foliage-lovers – and the tourist industry they support – could be in for darker days ahead.

Yingying Xie, a post-doc at the University of Buffalo, says global warming is bringing changes to the region’s fall colors. In general, warmer temperatures cause leaves to turn color later in the season.

But changes in frost and moisture levels, and stresses like drought, heavy rain, and extreme heat can also affect the timing of peak fall color.

Xie: “Climate extremes may bring pretty high uncertainty.”

One reason is that different tree species react to climate stresses in different ways. In her research, Xie found that drought caused ash and birch trees to change color earlier than usual. But it made oaks and beeches change color later.

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Extreme weather can also result in less vivid colors or trees losing leaves unusually quickly.

Xie: “People may have shorter time period to enjoy the view and they may observe less brilliant color.”

As extreme weather becomes more common, she says it will get harder to predict when fall colors will peak across New England.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image graphic: Created by David McCarthy.

Diana Madson

Diana Madson contributed regularly to Yale Climate Connections from 2014 to 2021. She enjoys exploring U.S.-based stories about unexpected and innovative solutions to climate change. In addition to her...