It’s one of the best reasons to live in New York: the burst of fall color. Take a tour with us on this page to follow John Kucko and his autumnal adventures.

Think you have some good color suggestions? Comment on John’s Facebook page, our Facebook, or on our Twitter.

Additionally, “I Love NY” — New York State’s official tourism site — puts together their fall guide, along with suggestions, tips for viewing, and other data.

Latest from I Love NY:

In the Finger Lakes, Steuben County spotters reporting from CorningHammondsport, and Hornell expect up to 50% leaf change over the weekend with some brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow. In Monroe County, reports from the Rochester suburb of Brighton are predicting more than 20% change with bright shades of yellow appearing in maple, white ash, and hickory trees, along with some bright red and orange leaves emerging from maples. More than 20% foliage change is also expected in nearby Greece, with a steadily increasing number of yellow leaves, plus vivid reds and oranges beginning to appear on certain trees. Observers note that foliage is generally more vibrant south and east of the Rochester area.

In Cortland County, spotters in Cortland predict 15% foliage change with emerging yellow leaves, while Livingston County spotters in Geneseo expect up to 15% foliage change and bright shades of orange and yellow. Tompkins County observers in Ithaca are predicting 15% leaf change with muted to average yellow and red leaves appearing. Wayne County reports from Lyons are predicting 15% change with yellow leaves starting to shine through in larger patches, plus emerging small areas of deep red and orange.

In Onondaga County, spotters around Pratts Falls Park in Pompey and Onondaga Lake in Syracuse predict up to 15% change with some early shades of red. Spotters in Downtown Syracuse expect a little more than 5% foliage change this weekend with emerging

copper leaves of average brilliance. Chemung County reports from Elmira expect 10% change with some yellow and orange leaves appearing in areas of higher elevation. In Ontario County, spotters in Rushville expect 10% foliage change with muted spots of red and yellow amid a sea of green.

In Schuyler County, observers in Watkins GlenBurdett, and Rock Stream are predicting just 10% foliage change by the weekend with an abundance of muted green leaves, while Yates County spotters in Penn Yan predict 10% color and some bright pops of red. In Cayuga County, Fair Haven spotters are expecting about 5% change with seasonal colors just beginning to show. Spotters in Auburn are expecting just under 5% change, as yellow and red leaves of average brilliance are just beginning to appear.

Photo 1: Andover, NY (Allegany County), taken 9/16/22

Photo 2: Carpenter Falls/Niles, NY (Cayuga County), taken 9/18

Photo 3: Canadice, NY (Ontario County), taken 9/20/22

Photo 4:  Honeoye, NY (Ontario County), taken 9/20/22

Photo 5: Watkins Glen (Schuyler County) taken 9/22/2022

Photo 6: Honeyoye (Ontario County) taken 9/26/2022

Photo 7: Salmon River Falls (Oswego County) taken 9/27/2022

Photo 8: Dayton’s Corners Schoolhouse, built in 1857 (Penfield), taken 9/28/2022

Video update 1: Maplewood Park, recorded 9/29/2022

Photo 9: Maplewood Park (Rochester), taken 9/29/2022

Snitil Snap 1: Charlotte (Monroe County), taken 10/4/2022

Nat Cam 1: Park Ave., Rochester, taken 10/5/2022

Why do leaves change in the fall?

Have you ever wondered how, or why the leaves on the trees start to change from green to all sorts of colors in the fall? And why do we call it “Fall Foliage”?

“Foliage” is just a fancy term meaning plant, or leaves from a tree. We refer to the term “Fall Foliage” when referencing the changing of the leaves on the trees. Why does this happen?

It all comes down to the changing of the seasons, and the amount of sunlight we receive throughout the year. Weather also plays a pivotal role in how much the leaves change and how vibrant they become from year to year.

During the summer, our length of daylight increases and the temperatures are the warmest, which signals to the leaves that it’s time to start making food again after a long winter.

Once fall comes around, the days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler, which signals to the leaves to stop their food-making process. This results in the gradual breakdown of a pigment called chlorophyll that’s found in plants that gives them that lush, green color. Chlorophyll gives plants their green color because it does not absorb the green wavelengths of light. Since this color is not absorbed, it’s reflected off the leaves, and that’s the color we see!

Mini Chemistry Lesson Below

The color change we see ultimately occurs due to the chemical processes that happen when less chlorophyll is produced by the leaves, causing their colors to change in appearance as the sunlight reflects off of them. When chlorophyll breaks down, the leaves begin to absorb more green wavelengths of light, and reflect other colors such as brown, red, yellow, orange, and even purple.

To jog your memory, chlorophyll is essentially a molecule in plants that absorbs sunlight and uses that energy to make food in a process you’re most likely familiar with: photosynthesis!

Chlorophyll is located within a plant’s chloroplast, which is where photosynthesis takes place, and photosynthesis is the process plants go through to turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose (sugar). See the photo below:   

All in all, the resulting colors of the leaves come from the different amounts of chlorophyll that the leaves are producing, which becomes significantly less the closer we get to winter. 

Fun Fact: Without the presence of chlorophyll in plants, the leaves would always have yellow, red, and orange colors to them!

Besides the weather and seasons, other factors that affect fall foliage include location and latitude, elevation, and differences in tree species. Other facts about the colors of leaves include: 

  • Temperature and moisture have the most influence over the brilliance of the colors
  • Certain trees will change color faster than others 
  • Early season frosts can bring the beautiful colors to an end 
  • The combination of warm, sunny days and cool (not freezing) nights will give leaves their best looking display 

During warm, sunny days the leaves are as active as they can be producing lots of sugars, and once the cooler nights fall it causes these sugars to become trapped as the veins trap them shut. This produces an abundance of anthocyanin, a chemical that produces colors like red and purple.

  • Carotenoids are a common chemical found in leaves that give them yellow colors frequently throughout the year
  • Having a late spring or summer drought can delay the offset of the colors by a few weeks while a warm, rainy summer will produce the most favorable conditions

For more about the science of fall leaves click HERE

Photo courtesy: smokeymountains.com