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Warm, dry summer should lead to vibrant fall colors in WNY

This year's dry summer in the northern sections of Western New York should have an extra, delayed benefit: a brighter-than-usual display of fall foliage.

However, because of that same warm, dry weather, leaves probably will begin to turn later than usual.

"Probably we're looking at a delay when the leaves turn by about a week or so because of the warm weather," said Alan Reppert, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather in State College, Pa.

Last week, AccuWeather forecast that the best fall foliage in the entire country this year should be in southern New York – by which the agency means the area between Albany and New York City – and southern New England.

"In this region, rainfall has not been as extreme from the summer months and near- to below-normal autumn rain is expected," AccuWeather meteorologist Max Vido said in a news release. "There is a greater likelihood for the dry, cool nights and sunshine-filled days that enhance leaf vibrancy."

But Western New York should fare very well, too, Reppert said.

If you want vibrant autumn colors, the best indicator is the summer weather. The colors are best when the weather has been dry, but not too dry, and warm, but not too warm.

"If you have too much drought, it puts too much pressure on the trees and they lose their leaves prematurely," Reppert said.

But on the other hand, Reppert said, "We don't want a lot of wet weather through the summer and into the fall."

Wet weather dulls the colors, and rainy, windy weather can knock the leaves off the trees prematurely.

In the Southern Tier, which received considerably more rain this summer than the Buffalo area and points north, the leaf season won't be as bright as it might otherwise have been, Reppert predicted.

"We won't see the bright reds or bright oranges in areas where it's been wetter," Reppert said.

"Wetter-than-normal conditions often prevent nighttime lows from falling to levels more favorable for the development of colorful pigments," Vido explained.

Reppert said it doesn't make any difference to fall colors whether the trees sprouted their leaves early or late in the spring.

According to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, yellow and orange pigments are present all season in most leaves, but they are masked by the dominant chlorophyll that makes leaves green.

But in autumn, when days become shorter and temperatures cool, the leaves' cells stop making food for the tree's growth, the chlorophyll breaks down and the yellow and orange appear. Other chemical changes in the leaves of certain species can produce red and even purplish colors, the SUNY report said.

The National Weather Service doesn't issue leaf forecasts.

"We don't specialize in vegetation," said Dan Kelly, a meteorologist at the government agency's Buffalo office.

But Kelly said that this year, Niagara, Orleans, northern Erie and Genesee counties "were actually in an abnormally dry period, almost the start of a drought."

There was some rain near Lake Ontario in late summer, but southern Niagara, northern Erie and Orleans counties are still rated as abnormally dry, Kelly said.

"The dry conditions do impact trees," Kelly said.

The trees begin to change colors when there has been a streak of several days of cooler temperatures.

But Reppert said Saturday's chilly weather probably wasn't enough to trigger the turning of leaves.

In higher elevations such as the Adirondacks, where it's cooler than elsewhere in the state, the leaves turn sooner.

The state's I Love New York tourism agency posts an online leaf report every Wednesday, based on observations from a statewide network of spotters.

Last week, the area north of the Thruway and east of Lake Ontario – mostly the Adirondacks – showed 35 percent to 40 percent change in leaf colors.

The report cited "fall colors of muted canary, goldenrod, maize, pumpkin, russet, cranberry, and cerise. ... There is still a lot of green, but vibrant shades of red are emerging from the red maples, and sugar maples are showing various hues of yellow and orange."

Only 15 percent color change was estimated in the Finger Lakes and the central Southern Tier.

In Western New York, "Green remains the predominant color," the state report said.

Green, as in money, is the favorite color for the state's tourism industry, and the other autumn shades can put more green in the pockets of hoteliers and merchants in the areas with the brightest trees.

I Love New York reported that 26 percent of the state's tourism business is done in the fall, second only to 30 percent in the summer.

"It is nearly impossible, though, to quantify how much of that is a direct result of foliage-related activity," a spokesman said.


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