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WeatherTalk: Colored leaves are not foretelling a cold winter

This is not early for leaves to change color.

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FARGO — Maple trees and sumac are showing signs of fall color. Every August, people start contacting our weather office this time of year saying, "Leaves are changing unusually early this year. Does this mean there will be a hard winter?" Well, this is not early for leaves to change, and no one knows what sort of winter it will be. Leaves change color for two reasons. The primary reason is their genetically ingrained reaction to the shortening daylight. Weather, itself, can also be a factor. However, if plants are reacting to unusual weather, they are reacting to past or present weather, not future weather.

There is no known way for a plant to know what sort of fall or winter we will have. Muskrats, pig spleens, woolly bear caterpillars, sliced onions and other famous folk forecast methods are of no help, either. Only after the global fall weather patterns have begun to take shape will forecasters be able to make an educated guess at the winter outlook.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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