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Climate Change Could Be Be Affecting Fall Foliage—Here’s How

Shifts in moisture levels and temperature may be changing the duration and brilliance of fall's annual show. Here's what you need to know.

climate change fall foliage
Written by
Calin Van Paris
Fall is a feast for the senses. Between the feel of crisp air biting skin, the scent of cinnamon, the cackling witches, and the countless
pumpkin-flavored offerings
, autumn makes itself known. Visually, the season is synonymous with a riot of warm hues as leaves present a final performance before tumbling from the trees.
But with
climate change
comes shifts in the iconic colors we know and love, which could result in billions of lost tourism dollars—think
$30 billion a year 
in revenue up and down
the East Coast

How Is Climate Change Affecting Fall Foliage?

climate change fall foliage
Warming temperatures and shifting conditions (drier or much damper, depending on where you reside) undoubtedly have an effect on the plant life around us. In terms of fall foliage, this may translate to changes in timing and vibrance.
Since 1970, temperatures across the U.S. have increased by an average of
2.7 degrees
, with the fall season certain cities elongating by one week to a month. These
warmer autumn days
—October 2021 was the fourth warmest October in a 142-year record,
according to
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—are thought to be slowly pushing the timing of the season's hues back, allowing trees to stay green for longer periods of time.
Some scientists dispute the theory, claiming that leaf senescence (the annual shedding) occurs earlier or later depending on the tree's productivity in the spring and summer seasons, serving to even out the timing. Some even think that falling leaves
may ultimately occur
Drought years and dry conditions can also result in dulled hues—in fact, any
changes in temperature and moisture year-round
serve to affect leaves' chlorophyll (green pigment), sugars, anthocyanin (red and purples), and carotenoids (yellows and golds), making fall's expected hues an entirely variable affair.

The Takeaway

Studies around climate change and fall foliage are still underway, and complicated, as certain things—like the brilliance of color—are difficult to quantify.
For now, take the time to stop and observe autumn's eye-catching beauty as it exists now—less traditionally striking showings may be on the horizon.