Colorful foliage is the hallmark of autumn, especially in the northeastern United States. As the season heats up, however, this familiar natural phenomenon is reflecting the impacts of our changing climate.
While decreasing sunlight hours is a key factor that signals the annual color change, the timing and duration of the displays are largely dependent on temperature and precipitation. Dry, sunny days and cool nights are the ideal conditions for beautiful fall foliage. But, as our climate changes, warmer and wetter conditions are becoming more common across the region.
In general, this means autumn colors are expected to peak later and disappear sooner. While there will still be variability from year to year, the fall foliage season, overall, is expected to get shorter. Furthermore, with the increasing probability of extreme weather events, such as heavy rainstorms, leaves could be swept from trees effectively ending the leaf-peeping season in a single day.
More than just an aesthetic detail, these changes are sure to have an impact on the multi-billion-dollar a year ecotourism industry in several states.