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Where is fall? Vibrant colors are missing from Wichita’s trees

If you have been eagerly awaiting the fall season to fully embrace cooler temperatures, pumpkins and hot apple cider, you are probably a tad-bit disappointed in the lack of vibrant fall foliage topping Wichita’s trees.

If trees were the only indicator of what season we are in, it would be obvious fall has not yet come to Wichita.

You can blame mother nature — or Kansas.

“In a lot of areas people will already be seeing fall colors at this time,” Matthew McKernan, Sedgwick County’s horticulture extension agent, said. “But it’s import for us to define normal for Kansas.”

And there really isn’t a normal. In recent years, McKernan said fall color has began as early as mid-October to as late as mid-November, so it is hard for him to confidently say if this late-coming color — if any color at all is coming — is normal.

What’s causing this delay?

Several factors influence fall color, but weather plays the largest role, McKernan said.

It involves not just current temperature, but also weather from earlier in the growing season and throughout the spring and summer months.

“The moisture in the summer months and temperatures going into the cooler season have a lot to do with the intensity of the fall colors we see,” said Lori Hong with Hong’s Landscape and Nursery. “When we have a summer where we don’t see moisture like we did, that intensity doesn’t happen.”

The temperatures in Wichita are still not ideal for fall colors, McKernan and Hong said, and it is not getting cool enough at night.

As fall progresses, leaves develop a higher sugar content that then produces those intense colors, but the warmer nights are preventing that sugar from accumulating in the leaves.

“It’s just like humans eating lunch and using that energy to last until dinner,” McKernan said. The cooler temperatures would allow for saved sugar – or energy – to store in the leaves, resulting in color for us to see.

But without cool temperatures overnight, the sugars are transported down to the trunk and roots, leaving us without those vibrant leaves.

For the fall-colored pigments to show, mid-40 degrees or below are needed throughout the night, McKernan said. Recently, the temperature has still been in the upper 50s and mid 60s.

Will we see fall color?

Robb Lawson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, predicted a “roller coaster” of up-and-down temperatures throughout the next week, with an average of 46 degrees and a high of 57 degrees.

Because of this, it is “very possible” leaves will begin to fall to the ground before they turn to their fall colors, leaving us without fall foliage in Wichita.

“Don’t give up yet,” McKernan said. “Fall is still on the way. Cooler night-time temps are bound to bring us more fall color.”

But hopefully it gets here soon, as the colors would only last until a frost or freeze.

“That would be the end of all color, so those leaves won’t last as long,” he said.

Kaitlyn Alanis: 316-269-6708, @kaitlynalanis

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