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Drought’s Effect on Fall Colors Remains to Be Seen

A naturalist at McCormick's Creek State Park says temperature is always the key factor in how colorful the leaf show will be.

This year’s drought could affect the way the leaves change color this fall, but officials are not sure what form the impact will take.

Sam Arthur, an interpretive naturalist at McCormick’s Creek State Park near Spencer, Indiana, says that temperature is always the key factor in how good the leaf show will be.

“You’ll see the yellows really start to occur right now. And then once we really start getting those cooler evenings, and the warmer days, that’s when you’ll really start to see those brilliant reds and the purples start to pop out,” Arthur says.

Still, he says, the drought could have an effect – particularly on how long leaf season lasts.

“In a drought, a lot of times what you’re going to see is that the leaves have loosened up on the leaf stem,” he says. “And so really all it takes is a thick wind to come blowing through and while we might have really vibrant colors, they might drop their leaves really quick.”

Sam Carman is the Director of Education for Indiana’s Division of Forestry. He says droughts can sometimes diminish leaf color.

“The trees are kind of shutting down a little bit, trying to retain some of the water and some of the moisture that they have in them,” he says. “So, that may also play a factor in why in drought years the color doesn’t seem to be as brilliant because in essence some of those leaves have already shut down for the year trying to retain water.”

Arthur says that the trees have already begun the natural processes that lead them to shed their leaves. But both he and Carman say it’s hard to predict the consequences of a drought before the season peaks in October.

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