Weather Wise: A muted Autumn leaf season

Fall Leaves
Posted at 9:11 AM, Oct 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-15 11:29:35-04

This autumn has been anything but typical as the weather has really taken a toll on the fall foliage.

Mid-October should be a vibrant and colorful time of year in Montana as chlorophyll in leaves breaks down, the green color disappears revealing a fall splendor of yellows, oranges and reds. However, this year, there has been too much white and temperatures too cold to allow peak fall colors.

Montana was headed in the direction of a beautiful fall after spring and summer saw near average temperatures and precipitation. Hot temperatures and drought can stress trees reducing color in the fall, but that didn't happen.

The month of September started out warm with cool nights, but not freezing at night. These are also conditions that would lend to a colorful October. But at the end of the month, a record-breaking snowstorm followed by record cold more typical of winter killed any chances of a colorful October.

Freezing temperatures destroy a tree's ability to manufacture the red and purple pigments. The timing of the cold and snow right as the chlorophyll production was stopping froze the green colors into the leaves.

Trees will then cut off the leaves to protect themselves resulting in dull green and brown leaves that fall off, never having the opportunity to create one of mother nature's most colorful collages.

But all is not lost for the entire state, as record cold and snow did not hit as hard west of the Continental Divide where trees are producing more typical colors.