Chicago, IL

Chicago is in for a drab fall foliage season due to drought conditions: Is global warming to blame?

Jennifer Geer

Autumn lovers looking for beautiful fall leaves may find themselves disappointed.

If you're looking forward to a vibrant autumn this year in Chicagoland, you may not get it. Experts say northern Illinois is more likely to see shades of brown rather than the gorgeous yellow, orange, and red we usually get from the trees in the fall.

Climatologist Trent Ford told Chicago's WBBM Newsradio, "Drought conditions have definitely affected trees really since the spring. I had some colleagues at the Morton Arboretum who reported all around the Chicago area trees were forming smaller leaves as a result of the drought."

We may get some pretty colors, but it won't be the usual stunning display, "There will still be some but certainly—typically, when we have drought that either develops in the late summer, carries into fall or develops in the fall and those trees are stressed, they won’t have that brilliant color," said Ford.

Ford suggested if you're in northern Illinois and you want to view some pretty fall colors, you can head to the central or southern parts of the state, where the drought has not been as bad.

How do droughts affect fall colors?

In a typical year, when the weather cools, the cool temps signal to the trees to get ready for winter. The trees then shut down their production of chlorophyll, which makes the leaves green. Left behind in the leaves are carotenoids which produce orange and yellow. And red leaves are produced when the trees make anthocyanins.

But, when an area experiences drought during the growing season, tree leaves can turn colors early and fall off. Or even skip the colors altogether, browning and falling off.

What does any of this have to do with climate change?

A report released this spring from The Nature Conservancy in Illinois warns of the effects that climate change is having on the state. One of the findings predicts hotter summers in Illinois will lead to severe droughts.

It gets worse than losing fall colors. The report warns if nothing is done, Illinois will experience many effects such as extreme temperatures, flooding, and increased pest diseases. The issues will affect urban and rural residents and cause damage to crop production.

Gov. Pritzker just signed an energy bill to combat climate change

To fight climate change, Illinois has committed to 100% clean energy by 2050 in an energy plan signed by the governor this week.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area.

Chicago, IL
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