Sept. 22 is first day of autumn; leaves beginning color change in WNY

autumn leaves in Letchworth State Park by Stofko
This photo was taken in Letchworth State Park at the beginning of October last year. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

The official start of autumn is tomorrow and the Chautauqua-Allegheny region is beginning to show fall color, according the most recent Fall Foliage Report produced by ILoveNY.com.

Reports are issued every Wednesday afternoon, so tomorrow’s report may reflect more Western New York areas where the leaves are beginning to change color. The reports signal when leaf color is just beginning to change, at the midpoint, at near peak, at peak and past peak.

Caterpillar damage

If leaves on your trees were chomped this summer by gypsy moth caterpillars, don’t worry– it won’t dampen your tree’s fall color.

A healthy, leaf-bearing tree that was defoliated by caterpillars should have already grown new leaves, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). While the new leaves may be smaller than normal, they will be able to turn color.

Here’s more information on what you should do to help trees recover from caterpillar damage.

Weather affects color

Fall colors are determined by environmental conditions rather than leaf conditions, according to the DEC.

The best conditions for vibrant fall colors are dry, bright days with cool, frost-free nights.

Weaker fall colors are caused by early frost or lots of rain. Rainy weather can leach water-soluble anthocyanins (which are responsible for the range of red colors) from leaves and have an overall dampening effect on fiery colors.

See more about the science of fall colors on this page from the US Forest Service.

What is an equinox?

Tomorrow is the autumnal equinox, the first official day of autumn. It’s called the equinox because day and night are roughly equal in length.

The days will continue to get shorter until Dec. 21, the winter solstice, which marks the beginning of winter. It’s the shortest day of the year, but means that the days get longer after that!

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