Early cold weather could ruin Colorado's fall colors, leaf-peeping

While the snowstorm that barged into the state from the north overnight may help firefighters battling the Cameron Peak fire and others in the state, the cold temperatures that came with it may ruin leaf-peeping.

That’s according to Dan West, the state forest entomologist for the Colorado State Forest Service. Snowfall isn’t the problem, but below freezing temperatures will do the damage.

“It’s definitely going to affect the amount of fall foliage that we see this season,” West said. “We’re likely to see quite a bit of loss of color. Instead of seeing the yellows and the oranges, we’re instead going to see more of a brown effect.”

RELATED: Photos of fall colors spreading through the mountains in 2019

And because the cold snap came so early — before the leaves became walled off from their branches, a biological process in the fall which is what starts the color change — those brown leaves are likely to remain attached to their trees for longer than normal.

“What we see after a freeze event is blackened or brown leaves that persist on the tree,” West said. “They haven’t walled off the leaf, so they are still pushing carbohydrates from the photosynthesis process out of the leaves down into the tree.”

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A week ago it appeared that the far southwestern part of the state might be the worst place in the state for leaf-peeping this year because of severe and extreme drought there. But if the cold snap ruins the show in the northern and central mountains, it might be the place to go.

“Although the show might not be as great as it would have been in a year with great precipitation,” West said, “because of this cold event it might be the greatest part in all of the state.”

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