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Do brighter leaves in the fall mean a colder winter is ahead?

The further we get into the fall season, we get less and less daylight. This triggers the leaves to stop producing chlorophyll.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Before we had access to science-based weather forecasting, humans could only make predictions based off observations and changes in seasonal patterns over time. 

Weather lore says that brighter the color of leaves in the fall, the colder and snowier winter will be.  

Let’s look at what causes leaves to change color. 

The further we get into the fall season, the less amount of daylight we’ll receive. This triggers the leaves to stop producing chlorophyll. 

Chlorophyll is the name of the pigment found in plants, which is what produces the green coloring. During spring and summer, more chlorophyll is produced due to increased amounts of daylight. 

Plants create energy from absorbing the sunlight through the process of photosynthesis.  

As the chlorophyll breaks down, the green pigment fades and it exposes the other types of pigments like yellows, oranges, browns and reds. 

Not only does the amount of daylight impact the leaf change, but also changes in temperature, as it becomes colder in the fall season.   

Another fall-related weather lore that ties in to this is that the earlier the fall colors peak, the milder winters will be. The color change of leaves can vary per tree or shrub species. 

Trees that are more damaged, stressed or not as healthy due to environmental factors may change sooner than others in its surroundings. 

The science says there is no correlation between the early color changes in the leaves, its intensity and how they predict winter weather. It’s all about balance. 

If there are frequent extreme weather changes early enough, the leaves might not last on the trees long enough before they’ve had the time to change. The brightest, longer-lasting fall colors usually happen during periods of dry and calm sunny days through late summer and cool, clear, frost-free fall nights. 


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