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Cailey Rizzo
November 06, 2017

Nothing gold can stay — especially when it was never gold to begin with.

Across the northeast, embittered “leaf peepers” are watching as the region’s leaves change from green directly to brown. The perennial display of scarlet, gold and orange didn’t splash across trees this year. And now, early November, the Northeast looks like a washed-out version of September.

Related: Forecasts Predict Winter Will Arrive Late and Leave Early This Year

But we shouldn’t blame the trees. They’re just following their rules.

According to data from the Southeast Regional Climate Center, 20 American cities in the Northeast either tied or set new records for warmest October in 2017 — including New York City, Burlington and Portland, Maine. Weather, alongside decreasing hours of daylight, are two of the most important factors in changing fall foliage, according to the USDA Forest Service.

When the days begin to cool down, trees shut down their production of chlorophyll. This pigment is what allows plants to absorb energy from light and what gives leaves their green color. Alongside chlorophyll, leaves also contain carotenoids and anthocyanins, which are tinted red, orange or yellow. As chlorophyll production shuts down, the vibrant hues from the other two pigments emerge on the plants.

When chlorophyll production doesn’t stop, the red leaves never emerge, as evidenced by this autumn’s colors. But that’s not to say that the leaves will stay on the trees forever. They will eventually change and fall. The display just won’t be as spectacular as years past.

However, as one environmental professor told Bloomberg News, “a less than stellar fall in New England is still pretty stellar by most folks’ standards.”

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