JOPLIN, Mo. — The collage of autumn colors that consumes Missouri’s trees each fall is what many look forward to seeing this time of the year. The cooler days and even cooler nights of a typical fall season are a welcome relief to the scorching heat of summer.
But that transition from lush greens to fall’s brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, may not be so brilliant this year. MU Extension horticulture educator and field specialist Patrick Byers says most of the blame is placed on the type of weather we’ve experienced in the midwest this year — starting with those scorching summer months.
“Bringing a healthy canopy of foliage into the fall is the first step in having a good fall color. Since a good majority of Missouri saw drought conditions at the end of the summer season, there’s a good chance that has negatively impacted the health of the leaves. Coming off of a drought, often times trees are stressed, and just the drought itself can lead to early leaf drop and more muted color,” said Byers.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR), abnormally dry conditions extended through summer 2023, especially in southern Missouri — and drought conditions have only declined. The DNR reports 85% of the state is currently experiencing drought, with 10% experiencing extreme drought.
“I think we’re seeing the consequences in the more muted fall colors. Here lately, I’ve seen a lot of browns when it comes to leaf color, particularly with the oaks. It’s been a transition from green to brown. I think we can say is a direct impact of drought,” said Byers.
But, it’s not just the lack of rain that determines fall foliage color and intensity. Cool evening temperatures play a big role when it come to color change. So far this season, low temperatures in the Show-Me State haven’t been that low.
Pat Guinan, state climatologist with the University of Missouri Extension, says Missouri’s minimum average temperature in September was 63.8 degrees. That’s 7.4 degrees above average. In fact, the low temperatures last month set a state record. But, it’s not all bad news for those looking for the vibrancy in Missouri’s fall foliage.
“While September was warm, the first few weeks of October we had lows in the 40’s. That’s key to getting the brighter colors of fall foliage,” said Meteorologist, Ray Foreman.
“One of the cool things about Missouri is that we have such a diverse forest that there’s a good chance for color every year, and some years, there’s a chance for just amazing, awesome fall foliage color,” said Byers.
According to Byers, the majority of Missouri should see fall foliage peak in color between now and October 31st.
“Fall color moves from north to south, and from west to east. Right about, central Missouri to southeast Missouri is peaking, and southwest Missouri is not going to be far behind. In the next week to 10 days — assuming your part of the state did receive some timely rainfall, the fall colors should be beautiful,” said Byers.
As for fall’s brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, Byers says that will be hard to come by for the majority of the state this year.
“In general, I think that it is going to be a short season of color and I think that it will be more muted than what you would expect to see during a really good year,” said Byers.