Tonawanda News

Features

October 8, 2012

Summer drought conditions could weaken fall colors

Temperatures are dropping, fresh apple cider is being pressed, pumpkin patches are being prepped, but one tell-tale sign of fall weather might be a bit lacking this year.

Due to record-breaking high temperatures and lack of precipitation over the summer, there’s a possibility much of the Northeast will have meager offerings this fall when it comes to colorful foliage.

Figures for North Tonawanda indicate the city’s trees will have average coloration, but an abbreviated season.

Karl Niklas, Cornell University professor of plant biology — whose research focuses on the relationship between plants and their physical environment — predicts a weak and spotty year for leaf watchers.

“The prognosis for this year’s coloration is not good,” throughout the Northeast, he said.

“I wish I was wrong, but I’m predicting that this year’s autumn coloration will not be as grand as in years past,” he added. “Why? Because of sustained high temperatures and the drought that plagued the Northeast. In combination, high temperatures and a lack of soil water have stressed trees to a point where many trees are already shedding their leaves and those that have leaves are bearing browned leaves.”

Niklas described this year’s fall coloration is being a “patchwork of good and bad” throughout the Northeast depending on whether areas experienced a severe drought with simultaneously high temperatures in the 90s to low 100s.

“The high temperatures are not bad by itself, the is drought not bad by itself, but put those two together and it really damages the leaves,” he said.

This perfect storm of drought-like conditions causes a particular chemical change in leaves that prevents the brilliant reds, yellows and oranges from being exposed come time for cooler weather, Nicklas said.

“When you see the forest in its autumn coloration, the pigments that cause those colors are by and large in the leaf during the entire summer, but they’re hidden by the more intense chloraphyl concentrations,” he explained.

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