KSN Storm Track 3 Digital Extra: Exploring the science behind fall colors

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Every fall we admire the changing colors that take over our local landscape. This seasonal change takes place thanks to a chemical process that occurs in the northern hemisphere from summer to winter.

A main factor in this chemical process is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment that we see in leaves. Its main job is to help trap incoming sunlight and carbon dioxide, turning it into energy during the growing season. The green pigment is so abundant that it is the main color we see during spring and summer.

As the earth continues to tilt on its axis, the northern hemisphere begins to lose daylight and the strong summer sunshine begins to become weaker. The angle of the sun begins to lower in the sky as well. As this happens, the leaves basically cut off circulation and the sharing of nutrients with the parent tree.

Once the sun begins to decrease and the leaves shut off food production, the chlorophyll production also shuts off. In addition, sugars that are trapped in the leaves bring out the other pigments that were overshadowed by the strong chlorophyll.

Yellows, reds and oranges begin to become the star of the show. Some deep reds and purples are dependent on location, weather and the type of tree.

While all the trees listed below are not found in the state of Kansas, many can be found in our great state. As we head into the peak of the fall color season, look for hickories, oaks and maples here in Kansas.

A prolonged dry season or intense drought can greatly impact the fall color display. A wet or near-average season leads to a better showing. The state of Kansas generally saw near or above-average rainfall for the last 30 days, so this should help create a vibrant showing.

If temperatures are too warm in the fall, the colors can also be muted. Look for warm days and cool, crisp nights for optimal changes. As we look ahead, we can expect many typical fall days to assist.

Western Kansas and the Kansas City metro should see peak fall colors around the last week of October with central and southern Kansas expecting a slightly later peak just after November 1.

Happy viewing! You can always submit your fall photos to KSN Connect 3 NOW for a chance of getting your pictures on air!

-Meteorologist Warren Sears

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