Monday, August 15, 2016

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Fall colors will be muted this year

Battling through one of the most oppressively hot summers in memory, many Western New Yorkers are pining for the more temperate days and cooler nights of the fall. With the natural autumn (not the one based on man’s calendar) less than a month away, there is hope in sight.

But, that sight will be duller than years past.

With this year being one of the driest on record, this fall promises to have some of the worst colors on record. This will prove to a real downer to the leaf peepers who look forward to driving across our wonderful region every fall, and it will put a really effect the Southern Tier’s tourism economy, one that already had a setback earlier this year with dismal skiing and snowmobiling conditions.

At press time, Buffalo was looking at year-to- date precipitation deficit of 8”. This has had a major effect on plant life, even including the largest of trees that have stood the test of time and have seen similar droughts. They just aren’t getting the nutrition they need.

Here’s what we can expect this fall:

The leaves will drop earlier and quicker

Last year was a very healthy year for WNY trees and we got to experience a late and sustained coloring of our forests. Colors started appearing in earnest during the third week of September and many places still could brag of good color well into the last week of October. Portions of Niagara County had good color up to Veteran’s Day.

This year, though, because the leaves haven’t been able to become as robust, they will fall earlier. You can expect to see leaves coming down by September 15 th and I would be surprised if the Southern Tier had colors worth sightseeing later than Columbus Day. This will put a damper on some fall events like Wellsville’s famous Ridgewalk and Run, the success of which is determined by the fall colors.

This drought is a color killer

2015’s colors were exceptional, a picture-perfect collage of really intense reds, yellows, and oranges. I thought it was one of the top two or three autumns this century. This year’s will be the worst, hands down.

A wet spring and dry fall always produce the best hues. But this year, we’ve been dry through the entirety of the growing season.

Many of those unhealthy leaves will fall even before changing color while others, especially the yellows and orange will be show more of a brown hue. If it’s any consolation, some of the reds might be bright this year.

Farmlands will produce better views

Many leaf peepers migrate to the Southern Tier to see the Allegheny Plateau and foothills sporting color, depth and a greater, wider view. This might be the year to not do that.

Those old growth forests tend to be less diverse than those of northern Western New York where the forests, woodlots and hedgerows are much younger. As Mother Nature tries to reclaim an environment, there is a far greater number of species trying to stake a claim. So, you will have a greater variety of trees and colors, and those variations will be able to, in some cases, overcome the dullness of the trees that have typically afforded us the best views. That means that the best views this year could be in the flatlands of the lake plains in Niagara and Orleans Counties.

While the leaf forecast might seem dismal, you should always get out and see them when you can. If we have a decent weekend weather-wise in late-September and colors have changed, go out on the road with a camera and some friends. If you don’t take advantage of that good weekend, it might be too late when next you have time available. The window for fall colors will be that brief this year.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident. His column, Exploring the Niagara Frontier, is published every Thursday on All WNY News.

From the 11 August 2016 All WNY News

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