How Will Cold Summer Affect Fall Leaf Colors?

Published Friday, August 22, 2014 at 1:22 pm
Sugar maple leaves turning yellow-orange on King Street across from Galileo's Bar and Grill, Aug 17, 2014. Photos by Dr. Howard Neufeld

Sugar maple leaves turning yellow-orange on King Street across from Galileo’s Bar and Grill, Aug 17, 2014. Photos by Dr. Howard Neufeld

By Jesse Wood

Aug. 19, 2014. ASU Professor of Biology Dr. Howard Neufeld, also known as the “Fall Color Guy,” started his weekly leaf color reports two to three weeks earlier than in years past.

Neufeld noted that he started his reports sooner because of the historically cold July and the fact that is email inbox is full from folks noticing maples already turning on Rivers Street and wondering what impact the cold summer will have on the autumn colors in the High Country.

Tree adjacent to Galileo Bar and Grill parking lot that has completely turned red in the upper portion of the crown by August 17, 2014.

Tree adjacent to Galileo Bar and Grill parking lot that has completely turned red in the upper portion of the crown by August 17, 2014.

In a weekly report dated Aug. 17, Neufeld wrote that calling this summer “relatively cool” is an understatement.

Citing a Boone weather station that has records going back 34 years, Neufeld noted this July was the coldest since record keeping. For Jefferson, which has 82 years of Records, this is the third coolest July in eight decades. He also cited that the N.C. Climate Office reports the 11th coolest July in 120 years. Those records, however, are primarily due to lower maximum temps rather than low minimum temps.

So will this cool weather in July affect the timing and quality of the leaf colors in the High Country?

“No one knows for sure,” Neufeld wrote. “August is continuing on a mild streak right now, and it’s an important month for prepping the trees for fall color. When August and September are cool and sunny, we get our best leaf colors.”

Neufeld noted in his Aug. 17 report that he has seen “prominent coloring” on dogwoods, red maples, sugar maples and burning bushes.

“The dogwood in my yard is starting to show some red color, as are the ones across the street from me in the cow pasture. The maples I mentioned last week continue to turn as do isolated ones in the woods. But the majority of trees are still quite green now, as they should be…,” Neufeld wrote. “This phenomenon has been noticed by others as far north as Pittsburgh, NY and Canada. They too had very cool July’s and people are reporting trees turning color several weeks earlier than usual. Others are documenting a failure of tomatoes to ripen on time. This may turn out to be one of our more unusual and interesting autumns.”

As for the black locusts that are turning brown, Neufeld said this is happening because of a native insect rather than fall coloring.

During his Aug. 10 report, Neufeld wrote that he has seen peak or significant coloring on maple trees along U.S. 321 and Rivers Street.

“Some of the horticultural red maple varieties are starting to turn red on the outer portions of their crowns, and these usually turn much later in the year,” Neufeld wrote. “It’s not clear why these trees turn so early. The trees along Rivers Street color up every year around this time, yet the majority of the trees in the forest still peak at our usual time, which for Boone is mid-October.”

Neufeld continued: “It is possible that when trees are stressed, such as by salt from the DOT during the winter, or by being planted in compacted soils, that they turn early. I don’t think the fact that these trees are turning early suggests that fall colors will come early this year. That depends more on what the weather conditions will be like for the rest of August and through September.”

While it is unclear if the cool July will affect the coloring this autumn, it is known that sunny and cool weather in August and September is ideal for those vibrant colors in mid-October.

Follow the Fall Color Guy on Facebook here, or check out his weekly reports on a App State homepage.

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