The Colorful Economy

Every Autumn, deciduous trees (those that shed their leaves) start to make their transition from greens to yellow, orange and red. Though society runs on either Meteorological Fall or Astronomical Fall being the start to the autumn season, the trees follow both the weather and the climate. This is why they don’t change at the same time, on the same date every year.

Vail, Colorado. Image: John Gillespie
Southeast Massachusetts: Brian Johns
Vail, Colorado: John Gillespie
Minnesota, Jennifer Lake
Lions Head Overlook, VA: Mark Skaggs

Leaves are made green by chlorophyll. Chlorophyll absorbs sunlight, and uses energy from that sunlight to transform CO2 and H2O into carbohydrates necessary for tree growth. The less sunlight that is available, the less chlorophyll is being used. When chlorophyll begins to break down, the other chemicals in the leaves (which are orange and red) begin to show. Depending on the type of tree, different chemicals can be more prevalent. Consider an Aspen tree in Colorado (also known as Colorado Gold), vs a Maple in Vermont. Aspens color the mountains in autumn with glorious yellow, and Maples decorate the far north with red and orange hues.

Weather will be the biggest driver that determines how vibrant the colors of the leaves are each year. For example, temperatures that are chilly, but still above freezing tend to make Maples a more brilliant red, because it enhances the chemical reaction that leads to red colors. Spooky days that are rainy, and cool signal chlorophyll that it’s time to shut down, which tends to let the other colors besides green have their moment to shine. The general trend of the season tends to determine when the colors shine, and how vibrant they may be. A cooler, wetter growing season could result in an earlier color season with more vibrant colors. In contrast, a warmer and drier growing season may result in colors that peak later and are more dull.

Leaf peeping forecast: Courtesy of Fall 2022 Foliage Predictor Map on October 17th

Similar to how leaves are impacted by what conditions present during the growing season, climate change can mean some locations become wetter and cooler than others, leading to more typically vibrant fall colors. On a less pleasant note, however, continuous dry and warm growing seasons can mean duller fall colors for that location. Fall colors are a massive drive for tourism in some locations such as Vermont, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Colorado, Montana, and the list goes on. US Forest Service states that Fall tourism accounts for 8 Billion in revenue in New England yearly. Areas that fall victim to drought, and warming climate would likely see a decrease in tourist motivation to travel for a less than desirable autumn show, costing area businesses that rely on leaf peepers every Fall.

About Monarch Weather & Climate Intelligence

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