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Breakdown: When fall colors peak & why leaves change colors

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 2:56 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -You may be starting to notice leaves taking on a more vibrant color. Some areas of bright colors may start to develop in early fall but the peak of fall foliage for the Mid-South arrives in November.

Peak fall foliage in the Mid-South starts in late October.

Map showing the peak of fall color
Map showing the peak of fall color(WMC First Alert Weather)

The peak will last through early November.

Fall color map showing the peak in the Mid-South
Fall color map showing the peak in the Mid-South(WMC First Alert Weather)

The green leaves you see in spring and summer are due to a chemical or pigment known as chlorophyll which helps trees take in sunlight. Trees use the sunlight captured by chlorophyll for a process called photosynthesis, which provide trees with the nutrients needed.

In fall, days get shorter causing trees to begin to transition due to lower amounts of sunlight. Less sunlight will mean that less chlorophyll is produced, allowing the other pigments or chemicals to take over. These other pigments produce the yellow, orange, and red leaves we see in autumn.

Weather can have impact when leaves change colors, the brightness of the leaf colors, and how long the fall colors last. If we get frost too soon in the season, that could cause leaves to fall off the trees before they can even change colors. Droughts can also cause issue but depend on the extent of drought and the type of tree being impacted. If a drought is severe, that may cause leaves to change colors early as trees can get stressed during prolonged dry periods. In addition severe droughts can mean leaves turn brown and fall quickly. A moderate drought could delay the onset of color by a few weeks, due to the slowing of metabolic processes. Different types of trees may handle the stress of a drought differently.

The most favorable conditions for vibrant fall leaves are warm, sunny fall days and cool nights. The right conditions allows an good amount of sugars to be created during the day, to then be trapped in the leaf at night. Moisture during the growing season, followed by a dry late summer/early fall can also make for bright and beautiful fall colors.

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